Study finds mammograms not a magic bullet


It seems every few months there is a new study on breast cancer and mammograms. This study basically says early detection is not the great lifesaver that people think it is. Today, treatment is just as important as early detection.

Carmen McHugh of San Rafael was getting her yearly mammogram Thursday.

"I think it's a good way to get started besides self exam; I think they are necessary," McHugh said.

But data collected among 40,000 women in their 50s and 60s in nor may found that mammograms reduced the death rate by only 10 percent. The research showed a mammogram is not a magic bullet and does not deserve all the credit for reducing the risk of deaths; modern treatment likely plays a greater role.

Dr. Laura Esserman is a nationally known breast surgeon with UCSF.

"The benefits of early detection become not as critical in the face of good treatment," she said. "It isn't that screening doesn't have any benefit, but it is less in the face of optimal treatment and that is all good news."

This is likely to once again start the debate on when and how often women should get routine screenings. The American Cancer Society says women should get screened every year starting at 40.

Dr. Joy Melnikow is the director of the Center for Healthcare Policy at UC Davis. She says women in their 40s should discuss it with their doctors.

"Depending on her particular preferences and risk factors, make that decision together with her physician and starting at 50 she get routine mammography every one to two years," Melnikow said.

Norway's study also points out that the awareness campaign surrounding breast cancer is another reason why fewer women are dying.

"If you find something that is abnormal or find something that is different, go see your physician," Esserman said. "Know your risk factors, if you have a strong family history, discuss it with your provider should you consider getting genetic testing."

The women with breast cancer in that study all received treatment.

Norway has a universal healthcare system, which means all women have more access to healthcare. That is not the case in the United States.

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