Mammography’s Importance Overplayed

by PJ Hennessy 2002 (revised 2014)


This graphic says it beautifully - 100,000 mammograms to save 10 lives. Meanwhile we are subjecting thousands to unnecessary procedures and worry.

The conventional and often quoted data say mammograms reduce death by 30%. New data provide a differing perspective – premature death from breast cancer is actually reduced by only 20% and in the process subjects women to many unnecessary x-rays , procedures and worries.


Factoid:  8-10% of mammograms show potential abnormalities.  97% of women younger than 40, and 86% of women over 40 who have suspicious mammograms DO NOT HAVE breast cancer.


The controversy began in 2000 when two Danish researchers Peter Gotzsche and Ole Olsen at the NORDIC COCHRANE CENTER re-analyzed eight large mammographic trials from the US, Canada, Sweden, and Scotland (over 480,00 women ages 39-75 followed from 7-18 years.) Troubling inconsistencies lead them to conclude, “the trials don’t prove NO BENEFIT, but are insufficient to prove BENEFIT.”


The world of cancer researchers responded in enthusiastic agreement with the Danish researchers. In the US this includes the national cancer Institute and PDQ (the Physicians Data Query Screening and Prevention Editorial Board is an independent body that evaluates medical screening.)


Want more info?  The PDQ report can be found at www.nci.nih.gov (go to cancer information; screening and testing; click on breast cancer (PDQ): health professional version.


“Everyone agrees that mammograms detect early tumors and smaller tumors, and give women more treatment options,” says Peter Greenwald, director of the division of Cancer Prevention at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda MD, “The question is whether it saves more lives in the long run.”


Please, you must go to this new link for the latest update on Mammography,  http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/28/ignoring-the-science-on-mammograms.


Summary:  At Women of a Certain Age, we know mammography is only one arm of the triad; BSE (breast self exam) and CBE (Clinical Breast Exam) are the others. We recommend BSE from a girl’s earliest interest, CBE yearly after age 35,  15 mammograms total over your entire lifetime.


© Copyright 2013 - 2018 by Pat Hennessy MD MPH                                                                                                                                                                Design by Victoria Young Maciulski