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Do mammograms save lives?

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide. Almost a million new cases are diagnosed each year. A number of studies have shown that mammograms save lives by detecting cancers at an earlier stage.

Dr. Chris Prakash, eParisExtra columnist
Dr. Chris Prakash, eParisExtra columnist

However, a Canadian study published in British Med Journal on february 12th, concluded that mammograms do not lower the risk of dying from breast cancer, while finding tumors that may not need treatment. The study followed 90000 women and compared annual breast exams (by a nurse) plus a mammogram, versus breast exam alone. After 25 years, breast cancer death rates were similar in the two groups.

This study has been reviewed by several experts and some major flaws have come to light. It appears that the equipment used may have been outdated, and poor methods may have been followed that made the mammograms look ineffective.

The precise benefit of mammograms, although widely acceptable in the U.S, remains controversial. Not all organizations agree on the guidelines. The American Cancer Society recommends mammograms every year starting at age 40, while the USP Task Force recommends starting at age 50 and then every other year.

As with most other medical decisions, a personalized approach needs to be adopted, in concert with your doctor. Those who are at the greatest risk of disease, get the most benefitfrom screening.

Mammogram screening is not a perfect science. There is a slight exposure to radiation, and it may lead to overdiagnosis and unnecessary procedures.

But it may also save your life!

By Sucharu Prakash, MD – eParisExtra columnist 


This information is strictly an opinion of Dr. Prakash and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Dr. Chris Prakash is a contributing columnist and author of eParisExtra’s “The Doctor is In” column. He is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology Paris. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Oncology and Hematology. He lives in Paris with his wife and two children and can be reached at (903) 785-0031 or Sucharu.prakash@usoncology.com. 

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