As a new study emerges, the issue of whether or not it is safe for women to have frequent mammograms is up to debate again. Just when women believed that the there was agreement on this issue, Annals of Internal Medicine are suggesting that women who are already at low-risk for breast cancer not waste their time and waste the money of the medical community by having mammograms; at least frequent ones. This new study interestingly enough, completely contradicts a study that was just released at the start of this month which stated that it is beneficial for women between the ages of 40 and 49 to receive mammogram screenings annually.
This study which suggests it is not necessary for women this age to bother with annual mammograms does make sure to note that they are only suggesting this for women who are categorized as low-risk. Women who would fall into the low-risk category include women without a family history of cancer, breasts that are considered very dense, and women who have never had a prior cancer scare. However, in order to determine the breast density factor, one mammogram will need to be conducted. Breasts that are considered high density can only be measured through means of radiology and therefore women cannot know their breast density based on size or firmness from the outside.
Currently, the United States guidelines for mammogram screening suggest that women have this completed bi-annually, or every 2 years. John Schouseboe, the study’s head researcher, explained that the study reveals a set of guidelines for mammograms that are much more personal than what is offered at the current time.
According to Schouseboe, current guidelines only involve age as a factor, however, whether or not a mammogram is going to be beneficial should also depend on how much at risk each patient is. Schouseboe is also a physician at Park Nicollet Health Services in Minneapolis.
The research team collected information from two surveys that took place throughout the country, which aimed at tracking mammogram frequency as well as rates of breast cancer for at least one million women. The goal was to develop hypothetical situations. In one scenario, the women did not have mammogram screenings while in the other scenario, the women received mammogram screenings in 2 year intervals. A third scenario involved women receiving mammograms at 3 or 4 year intervals.
Every scenario involved the assumption that by age 40, each woman had had a mammogram to determine their breast density.
For women that were between the ages of 40 and 50, did not have high breast density, and no other risk factors for cancer, the study revealed that conducting mammograms, regardless of the intervals, was simply not cost effective.
For most women, they will not be thoroughly impressed with this study, as the bottom line clearly seems to have financial motives. Even if it costs $228,000 to save one woman’s life for a single year, if women in their 40’s that are low risk are screened every 4 years, as suggested directly by the study, this provides little if any comfort to the single woman who becomes diagnosed with breast cancer.
The study also discovered that in order to save a single life among all women currently in their 40’s, approximately 8,000 women would need to receive mammogram screenings. The only argument the study makes that is even mildly compelling is the chance of a false-positive result. This study states that 17 out of 100 women receive a false-positive reading; however, this statistic appears much higher than another study conducted in Sweden recently reported at the end of June which estimates the risk of a false-positive at less than 5%.
Osmolska, D. Psy.D. 2011. Frequency of mammograms is up for debate again as new study emerges.