A report released by researchers on Wednesday indicates that mammograms for women in their 40’s could cut the breast cancer death rate by 26 percent for that age group. Some experts have remained skeptic, claiming that the researchers may have overestimated the benefit of mammograms for women in their 40’s.
The conclusions of this study contrast with a report issued last year by the United States Preventive Services Task Force. This independent group issues the guidelines on cancer screening, and questioning the benefit of screening women under the age of 50.
The authors of the study include Dr. Stephen Duffy, epidemiologist from the University of London and Dr. Laszlo Tabar, professor of radiology at the University of Uppsala School of Medicine in Sweden. These doctors have long advocated mammography screening. The report will be published in the online journal “Cancer” and will be presented Friday at a meeting sponsored by and involved with the American Society for Clinical Oncology and five other organizations.
The study took advantage of the mammorgram circumstances in Sweden where women in some counties have been offered mammograms in their 40’s while women in other counties were not. The lead author Hakan Jonsson is the professor of cancer epidemiology at Umea University in Sweden.
Dr. Jennifer C. Obel of the oncology society said that the study “captured the real-world experience of mammograms in this age group. She suggests that all women, beginning at age 40 speak to their doctors about mammograms.
Other experts weren’t convinced by the results of the study. Dr. Peter C. Gotzsche of the Nordic Cochrane Center in Copenhagen a non-profit that reviews healthcare research says that one problem is that the investigators counted the number of women who received a diagnosis of breast cancer and also died of it. They did not compare the broader breast cancer death rates in the counties.
Dr. Gotzsche said that it is an important distinction because screening finds many cancers that do not need to be treated or found early. With more harmless cancers being found in the screened group he says, it will appear that the chance of surviving breast cancer is great in that group. Based on that, he claims “the analysis is flawed.”
Dr. Johnson and his colleagues plant to look at the over-diagnosis later, but that the aim of screening “is to find breast cancers early and reduce mortality from breast cancer.”
A statistician at MD Anderson Cancer Center said “We are finding cancers that would never be found if we didn’t look. Small wonder people think screening is great- some of the cancers it finds were not lethal in the first place.” He said that the over-diagnosis issue is a serious one.
Many women in their 40’s and younger would want to know about the possibility of breast cancer whether it is lethal or not. Screening enables women to be informed and aware of the health of their breasts and their body in general.