About 16 million breast x-rays (mammograms) are done every year in the U.S. in attempt to stem the 41,000 annual lives lost to breast cancer. A large, long-term study came out late yesterday in a major medical journal, BMJ, that says mammography may be a waste of time and money.
The actual study says that screening for cancer with mammography in women ages 40 to 59 "does not reduce mortality from breast cancer" in places where treatment is available.
The University of Toronto study split a group of 89,835 women in two. Half of them got mammograms, and half did not. After 25 years, the rate of death from breast cancer was the same in both groups. Some of the women who underwent mammograms ended up with unnecessary treatment.
The research is well done and will influence a global conversation. Dr. Richard Wender, chief of cancer control for the American Cancer Society, said an expert panel will factor this research into new guidelines to be released within the year. Until then, current recommendations stand.
In aggregate, previous studies have found that regular screening for breast cancer with mammography does improve mortality rates. Wender told The New York Times, "Data from clinical trials of mammography showed it reduces the death [mortality] rate from breast cancer by at least 15 percent for women in their 40s and by at least 20 percent for older women."