I had to cringe when I read these headlines, because it gives women excuses not to go for their routine mammograms and it casts a confusion cloud on proper guidelines for staying healthy.
Death rates for breast cancer have been steadily decreasing over the past 20 years in most countries, but it is unclear why. Is it the early screenings? or the better treatment?
A study published in the British Medical Journal on July 28, 2011 finds the mortality rates (how many women died) from breast cancer did not change when they compared countries that had routine screenings against countries that did not.
This was a study where they took data already logged, and looked at how the numbers compared. 3 pairs of countries were compared. One had routine screening in place about 10 – 15 years after the other one did. When the death rates were compared, there was virtually no difference between the countries.
There are several issues I have with this study:
- As the researchers themselves noted, the observation period may not have been long enough to get a reliable study.
- The studies measured “organized national screenings”. That is, an invitation was sent out to women by the government of the country telling them of screening recommendations. In the 1990’s and 2000’s it was well known that women should get routine screenings for breast cancer and women could already have been getting screened before the “formal invitations” were instituted.
- No actual numbers were given in the study, only trends.
Please be careful when seeing headlines like this one that you do not ignore the recommendations that are currently in place for women and breast cancer screenings.
One previous example of irresponsible reporting, was in 2009 when a useless US government agency decided to suggest new guidelines for breast cancer screening based on what they deemed to be reliable research. In my opinion, the doctors on the committee were working for a team trying to set guidelines for the new US national healthcare program. Instituting these guidelines would save the US government millions of dollars over the screening that are currently in place at the expense of women’s lives. It included:
- no screening for women under age 40
- doctors should stop teaching women to do self breast exams
- routine mammograms should be done every 2 years after age 50
Screening mammograms can detect breast abnormalities early in women in their 40s. Findings from a large study in Sweden of more than 1 million women in their 40s who received screening mammograms showed a decrease in breast cancer deaths by 29 percent. And it’s important to remember that most women who get breast cancer have no family history or other known risk factors for the disease.
At Mayo Clinic, a three-tiered approach is currently used:
- Breast health awareness, which includes a woman becoming familiar with her breasts in order to identify breast abnormalities or changes, and to inform her doctor of any changes that may need further evaluation (self breast exams)
- Clinical breast exam performed by a health care provider and recommended annually beginning at age 40
- Screening mammography beginning at age 40
As I have mentioned before, if I had followed the new 2009 guidelines, I would not be writing this post because I would be dead. My stage III cancer was detected by a mammogram at age 41 in 2005. I have no risk factors for breast cancer just like over 50% of all women have no risk factors, so according to the 2009 guidelines, I would be slated to get a mammogram in 2014.
Don’t jump to conclusions over one research study’s results. Often news stories want to grab your attention, and they don’t give you the whole story. Use common sense and don’t change your routine screening schedule without consulting your medical professional.
If you have any questions about this subject, please e-mail me as I would be happy to discuss.
Thanks for reading and stay well!