Last week there was an article in the New York Times blog on the latest research published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The research shows that, “mammograms increased diagnoses and surgeries, but didn’t save lives”.
Mammogram screening led to an increase in the number of breast cancers detected at an early stage but the number of cancers diagnosed at the advanced stage was essentially unchanged. If mammograms were really finding deadly cancers sooner (as suggested by the rise in early detection), then cases of advanced cancer should have been reduced in kind. But that didn’t happen.
So what are we to make of that?
Mammograms have become standard care for women based on the understanding that early detection is key to preventing death from breast cancer. As the article states, “the trial results threatened a mammogram economy, a marketplace sustained by invasive therapies to vanquish microscopic clumps of questionable threat, and by an endless parade of procedures and pictures to investigate the falsely positive results that more than half of women endure.”
Are mammograms benefiting women, or are they just something that helps fund a dysfunctional health care system? I guess every woman has to make that decision for herself.
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