In the past few months there’s been a lot of conflicting information about mammograms in the press. Not surprisingly, we get asked a lot of questions by our patients: Are mammograms useful? At what age should I start getting tested? What are the risks? What if I test positive?
Recent News: A Quick Summary
A few months ago, there was a cost analysis of whether women should start regular mammograms starting at age 40 or age 50. Why was this a concern? Because the American Cancer Society recommends that women start mammogram screening every year starting when they turn 40, while the U.S. Preventive Service’s Task Force recommends that women get a mammogram every other year starting at age 50.
A few weeks later, a Canadian study reported that mammograms did not reduce breast cancer deaths. This study was criticized by U.S. radiologists as being flawed and misleading.
The Latest Word
Even more recently, the American Medical Association published the results of studies that attempted to put all the previous research into perspective. For the first study, researchers at Harvard examined all the research done on mammograms since 1960. They concluded that while mammograms have benefits, these benefits have been “oversold,” while the potential harms have been minimized.
Who Should Get Screened, And When?
The researchers also found that annual mammograms can reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by about 19 percent; but the benefit varies based on a woman’s age and her underlying cancer risk. For example, breast cancer becomes much more common as a woman ages. Here are the statistics:
As for women age 75 and older, the study found that there have been no tests to see whether women of this age benefit from regular mammograms. This means that there’s no way to know how much regular mammograms might extend the life of a woman in this age range.
The Risk of Overdiagnosis
The Harvard study also evaluated overdiagnosis, in which women are treated for a cancer that would never have been life-threatening. The researchers found that about 19 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer as a result of a mammogram undergo unnecessary surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.
So What’s the Bottom Line?
The researchers concluded that mammography is a useful but not perfect screening test. So if you’re trying to make a decision about mammography, be sure to discuss the risks, benefits, uncertainties, alternatives, and your own health history and preferences.
About the practice
Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is a gynecologist located in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.
Laury Berwitt is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s health care in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for 10 years, caring for women of all ages.
Laury and Dr. Garofalo offer mammography and related consultation services as part of well woman care.
For more information, go to www.garofaloobgyn.com. John Garofalo, MD and Laury Berkwitt, APRN can be reached for personal consultations by calling 203.803.1098.