By PATRICK DAWSON, MD
Health experts currently don’t agree on exactly when, and how often, women should have mammograms.
But findings from a new study provide data to help inform each individual’s choices.
The study began when Norway kicked off a breast-cancer screening program in 1995. Health officials invited all women age 50 and older to have a mammogram every other year.
The way they did it, though, offered scientists an interesting chance to assess the effect.
Because women in some counties received invitations before others, it was possible to track not only the effect of having the screening, but of simply being invited.
Researchers compared the initial participants to those who hadn’t yet been asked to have screenings. They then tracked breast cancer and other deaths through 2009.
The results? Those with a breast cancer diagnosis were 28 percent less likely to die from the disease if they had been invited to have a mammogram. And those who actually participated in the screenings reduced their death risk by 37 percent.
Early Detection Explains Results
Mammograms can find breast cancer early, when it’s more likely to be curable.
The findings, published in BMJ, help put a clear number on the benefits. One breast cancer death could be prevented for every 368 women invited to have a screening, they estimate.
Even not attending the screening implies an active choice, the researchers say. So, women who were invited but didn’t get a mammogram may still have had an important conversation about breast cancer risk with their doctors.
Screening Choices: Yours to Make
The American Cancer Society recommends most women get yearly mammograms beginning at age 40.
But the National Cancer Institute notes that women age 50 and older see the most benefit. And mammograms do have risks. These include false negatives, false positives, and unnecessary treatments.
Even with the new findings, only you—with your doctor—can decide on the screening schedule that’s right for you. Discuss it at your next visit.
If you are interested in discussing any women’s health issue you can schedule a consultation with Dr. Patrick Dawson at 505.661.9201.