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Long-Term Study From Harvard Finds Benefits Of Mammograms May Be Overstated

Experts Recommend Discussing Individual Screening Plans With Doctor

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A new study is adding to the controversy about the value of mammograms.

As CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, one of the largest reviews to date finds that mammograms do save lives, but not as many as people believe. That benefit comes with some risks of its own, the study found.

Recent studies have led to a lot of confusion over mammograms. Annual mammograms are recommended for all women starting at age 40.

A widely discredited Canadian study released earlier this year said they don’t save lives.

This new Harvard study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association says the opposite, but even its conclusions are disputed by many breast cancer experts.

A review of 50 years’ worth of research suggests the benefits of mammography are overestimated. Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers conducted the review.

“Mammography does have some benefit in the likelihood of dying of breast cancer. But these benefits are relatively modest and, particularly for women who are at very low risk of breast cancer, the benefits are quite small,” Dr. Nancy Keating of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School said.

The review estimates mammograms reduce death rates by about 19 percent. For women in their 40s, it’s 15 percent and for women in their 60s, it’s about 32 percent.

The researchers called those benefits modest. But women whose lives were saved might disagree.

A 19 percent reduction works out to more than 7,500 deaths prevented every year.

Plus, some experts said detection is not just about survival; it’s also about finding tumors sooner so women have choices.

“You need to catch cancers early because the treatment will be easier and less involved,” said Dr. Stephanie Bernik, Chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital.

Still, the study authors say mammograms also carry risks. False positives can lead to anxiety and unnecessary biopsies and treatment, which can be expensive and lead to significant complications.

The new research suggests women talk to their doctors about breast cancer screening and make an individual decision based on their age and risk.

Many breast cancer experts agree with that advice but also say there is no question mammograms save lives with a minimal risk for harm.

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