One of the authors of a report in the New England Journal of Medicine believes that mammograms may be making women sick or even killing them.
Study co-author Dr. Archie Bleyer of the Oregon Health and Science University says one out of three women found to have breast cancer through mammogram detection are overdiagnosed.
According to CNN, Bleyer says doctors have to treat all tumors because they can’t tell in advance whether they are deadly, and treatments like chemotherapy may increase a woman's chances of getting leukemia or other diseases.
NorthJersey.com reported that the research involved federal surveys on mammography and cancer statistics from 1976 through 2008. The number of early-stage cancer spotted more than doubled, from 112 to 234 cases per 100,000 women, through use of a mammogram. But cases of late-stage cancer fell only eight percent, from 102 to 94 cases for each 100,000 women.
"Our study raises serious questions about the value of screening mammography," the study said, according to Global Post. "Although no one can say with certainty which women have cancers that are over diagnosed, there is certainty about what happens to them: they undergo surgery, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy for 5 years or more, chemotherapy, or usually a combination of these treatments that otherwise would not have caused illness."
Not everyone agreed with the results. The American College of Radiology called the study “misinformation” and said “the cost may be lost lives.”
The Washington Post reported that the study concluded that lower death rates seen for breast cancer today is mainly due to improved treatments rather than detection from a mammogram.
In November 2009, federal guidelines on mammograms were changed to say that women should have regular screenings at age 50 instead of age 40, and then get a mammogram every other year rather than annually.
Lead author of the study Dr. H. Gilbert Welch of Dartmouth said, according to The Washington Post, “We should tell women about the trade-offs and we should allow them to make their own decision.” In making that decision, CNN suggests that women know their family history, understand that mammograms are not infallible and miss many cancers, and learn about other screening tools.