UK Study Finds No Mortality Benefit for Mammograms
To keep the pot boiling, I want to draw your attention to this new study from the UK that suggests that screening mammograms do not reduce mortality. There have been a number of US studies over the past few years that have found that screening mammograms (remember that, when the word "screening" is used, it means that we are talking about annual mammograms for the general population, not for women with a personal history of breast cancer) do not reduce deaths from breast cancer. Whenever we talk about this, feelings run hot and deep as many women have a story of their own breast cancer being found by a mammogram.
If this is your personal history (and it is mine for one breast cancer; the first one never showed in a mammogram), it is very hard to feel neutral about this statement. A few women have angrily told me that these studies make them feel like "throw aways", that their lives are considered not valuable. If we all take a deep breath and stand back a bit, I think we can usually remember that any studies are talking about the whole female population and not about an individual woman. Public policy of all sorts is based on an understanding of what is best/most cost efficient/most valuable for the greatest numbers of people, and there are always going to be exceptions.
Having said that, here is the start of the article from Eureka Alert with a link to read more:
Screening fails to affect breast cancer mortality statistics
New research analysing breast cancer mortality data spanning almost 40 years concludes that
breast cancer screening does not yet show an effect on mortality statistics. The research, published
in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, analysed mortality trends before and after the
introduction of the National Health Service Breast Screening Programme in 1988. The research was
based on an analysis of mortality statistics in the Oxford region because, unlike the rest of England,
all causes of death on the death certificate, not just the underlying cause, are available prior to the
commencement of the National Health Service breast cancer screening programme. In addition,
mortality statistics for the whole of England, where death is recorded as an underlying cause, were
Researchers from the Department of Public Health at the University of Oxford sought evidence of a
decline in population based breast cancer mortality that could be attributed to the implementation
of mammographic screening programmes. They concluded that population based mortality statistics
for England do not show a past benefit of breast cancer screening.
The new research contrasts with the findings of an independent review commissioned by the
Department of Health published in 2012 which concluded that there was a 20% relative reduction
in mortality from breast cancer in women invited to screening. The review also found that for each
breast cancer death prevented, about three overdiagnosed
cases will be identified and treated.
Lead researcher, Ms Toqir Mukhtar, says that while the new results do not rule out a benefit of
breast cancer screening at the level of individual women, "the effects are not large enough to be
detected at the population level". The results were unaltered by an analysis with the enhancement
of using all certified causes of death.