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New Mammography Controversy

Posted 3/3/2014

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  First, I am happily and safely back after an incredible two and a half weeks in Asia. We were mostly in Myanmar(Burma) and then in Cambodia to see Ankor Wat. Myanmar was especially interesting and beautiful, felt a bit like falling down a rabbit hole. As you likely know, that country has been very isolated from the rest of the world, and is just beginning to open up. The tourist infrastructure is spotty; there is almost no internet availability, and there are no cell phone connections outside the country. At the one hotel in Yangon where there was a very slow internet connection, I tried to get on to Bank of America to pay a bill--and it was blocked. Amazing. 

  The country is gorgeous; the food is delicious, and the people were all warm and welcoming.We are so happy to have been there, and, especially, to have been there now before it becomes more caught up with the world. As a bonus, it was delightful to miss some cold weather and, instead, spend a lot of time barefoot in temples and sitting my pools.

  But back to the subject here. Before I left, I posted about the new Canadian study that again questions the value of screening mammography (remember, that does not mean us; it means women who have not had breast cancer). There has been a lot of discussion about it, and I think that this article from gives a good summary of the issues:

Canadian Study Questions Value of Mammograms for Women Aged 40 to 59; Experts Say Research Is

Several large studies, including a review by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2009 and a study on the causes of death in the United Kingdom in 2013, have questioned the value of screening mammograms.
On the other hand, a group of researchers from around the world reexamined the data from four large studies on the risks and benefits of breast cancer screening and presented their results at the 2013 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. They found that the benefits of screening mammograms are more consistent across these studies than has been previously reported. They also found that all the studies showed a sizable reduction in deaths from breast cancer because of screening mammograms.
Doctors who question the value of mammograms say that while mammograms do save lives, for each breast cancer death prevented, three to four women are overdiagnosed. Overdiagnosis means either:
a screening mammogram finds a suspicious area that would have been eventually diagnosed as cancer by other means, without any effect on prognosis a screening mammogram finds a suspicious area that never would have affected a woman’s health if it hadn’t been found or treated  

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