MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. -- Philip C. Bonanno, breast surgeon at Northern Westchester Hospital, addresses the risks and benefits of mammogram screenings.
This news was hard to miss: A new study suggested that women who get annual mammograms are as likely to die from breast cancer as women who only get breast examinations from qualified doctors and nurses. If you find that news confusing, you’re not alone. Doctors, public health officials and cancer specialists are all trying to figure out what the findings mean when it comes to detecting breast cancer and protecting women.
The study, published in the respected British Medical Journal, tracked more than 90,000 women for 25 years. The results found that death rates from breast cancer were identical in women who got mammograms and those who did not. Worse, in one in five cases, getting a mammogram often led to biopsies, radiation and chemotherapy to treat cancers that actually posed no threat to the patient.
The point of the study was to determine whether there is a true advantage to detecting tumors that are too small to feel in a breast examination, and the answer was no. Part of the explanation for this finding is that many tiny cancers never become deadly, the researchers say. Also, breast cancer treatment has become far more effective, which makes early detection less critical when it comes to saving patients’ lives.
However, the study overlooks a crucial aspect of detection and prevention. The study really didn’t take individual risk into account. The research included all types of breast cancer, from relatively low-risk tumors to very invasive, aggressive cancer. When you look at women who are in higher risk groups, mammograms and other types of imaging tests can absolutely play a crucial role in saving lives, he explains.
Read more of Bonanno’s response to the study’s findings on Northern Westchester Hospital’s blog.