Are More Mammograms Detecting Early Breast Cancer or Over Diagnosing?

by Head Health Nutter on July 29, 2015

Do routine mammograms really help in the fight against cancer? Are they worth the personal or health care costs? Keep reading today’s guest article by Brooke Chaplan to find out what she’s uncovered in her research. 

Questions about the use of routine mammograms to detect early signs of breast cancer in women have existed for a number of years. However, recent data indicates that using mammograms for detection may have a number of drawbacks. In addition, other forms of testing have been developed that may provide better information about the likelihood of developing breast cancer in later years.

Attractive young caring doctorThe Promise of Mammograms
When mammograms were introduced to the public as a routine screening method, many believed it was the answer for the problem of women dying of breast cancer. However, in 2014, a large study indicated that mammograms were not necessary helpful in saving the lives of women. The rush to treat small cancers with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation was unnecessary in some cases. Some cancers can grow very slowly or not at all and certain small cancers even disappear with time.

Another Study Questions Mammograms
The latest study was reported in early July of 2015 in the Journal of American Medicine. The study compiled data from 547 counties in the United States involving women over the age of 40 who underwent breast cancer screening with mammograms. Sixteen million women were screened and 53,207 cancers were found. Although more frequent mammograms were able to detect smaller cancers, they did not lower the rate of death from breast cancer, which remained steady.

The study suggests that over diagnosis is a significant problem with mammograms, and waiting to initiate treatment may be the better choice for many women.

Problems With the Study
Some parts of the medical community point out that the new study compared large groups of people and did not focus on individual women’s medical condition from the time of the mammogram forward. Others question whether the large number of subjects leaves the study open to missing a number of deaths from cancer. They note that other studies have indicated that mammograms have lowered the rate of death from breast cancer by as much as 20 percent.

Confusion About Mammograms
These studies questioning the value of mammograms cause a significant amount of confusion among women wanting to know if they should be screened. All testing equipment should be reviewed by a reliable source like Nelson Laboratories before coming to offices. So the question is less to do with the quality of testing equipment, and more on specific patient’s needs.

Medical professionals are not suggesting that mammograms should be curtailed, but in many cases, watchful waiting may be the better option for small questionable tumors. Women who have a family history of breast cancer should continue to follow their physician’s instructions on when to schedule mammograms to diagnose breast cancer in its earliest stages.

With time we will be able to see if mammograms continue to be useful in early detection of breast cancer. Public education continues to be important in helping women know if they may be at risk as well. If we can narrow detections of large and small tumors more lives will be saved and costly screenings can be done away with.


About the Author

Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.

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