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More evidence that yearly mammograms don't cut mortality rates

Thursday, February 20, 2014 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: mammograms, mortality rates, breast cancer

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(NaturalNews) Besides subjecting women unnecessarily to higher doses of radiation, a new study has found that yearly mammograms don't even cut death rates -- which was one of the primary reasons why the medical industry recommends getting one annually.

According to researchers in Canada, the new study confirmed earlier findings that a number of abnormalities detected during mammograms would not have proven fatal in the first place, even if they were left untreated.

The research, published Feb. 13 in the British Medical Journal, "is the latest salvo in a decades-long debate over the benefit of mammograms," Reuters reported, adding:

The 25-year study of 89,835 women in Canada, aged 40 to 59, randomly assigned the volunteers to receive either annual mammograms plus physical breast exams or physical exams alone.

The women started receiving mammograms from 1980 to 1985. At the time, doctors believed screening saved lives by detecting early-stage cancers, which were considered more treatable than cancers detected later, especially in women aged 50 to 64.

Current findings mirror earlier studies

However, scientists who conducted the study "found no reduction in breast cancer mortality from mammography screening... neither in women aged 40-49 at study entry nor in women aged 50-59."

Those findings mirror a 2012 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which concluded that mammography screening "is having, at best, only a small effect on the rate of death from breast cancer."

On the basis of similar findings, which date back to the 1990s, in 2009 the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which is comprised of an independent group of medical experts, recommended biennial screening mammography for women aged 50 to 74 years, Reuters reported. That recommendation replaced an earlier one which said women should start having mammograms every one to two years beginning at age 40.

More from Reuters:

Proponents of mammograms often point out that women whose breast cancer is diagnosed by mammography alone live longer than those whose cancer is diagnosed by physical exam. This study found that as well, but the apparent advantage was illusory, the researchers concluded. For one thing, if a cancer is sufficiently aggressive and resistant to treatment it will likely prove fatal no matter when it is detected. Finding it in 2011 by physical exam, as opposed to 2007 by mammogram, simply means that the woman lives longer knowing that she has cancer, not that she lives longer overall.

The Canadian study found that mammograms merely increase perceived survival time without really affecting the overall course of the disease process.

Annual mammography 'does not result in a reduction in breast cancer'

Besides not reducing mortality from breast cancer, researchers found that mammograms are responsible for an epidemic that is being labeled "overdiagnosis." Twenty-two percent -- more than one in five -- of the invasive cancers detected by mammography were not dangerous, meaning that they would not cause any symptoms or death during the woman's lifetime.

That represented one overdiagnosed breast cancer case for every 424 women who underwent mammography screening, according to the research team, which was led by epidemiologist Anthony Miller of the University of Toronto.

Miller and his research team did say that their findings may not hold up in countries where access to advanced cancer treatment regimens is limited.

Still, in countries like those in North America and Europe where such care is widely available, "our results support the views of some commentators that the rationale for screening by mammography should be urgently reassessed by policy makers," since annual mammography "does not result in a reduction in breast cancer specific mortality for women aged 40-59 beyond that of physical examination alone or usual care," the team wrote.







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