A lot of money is spent on healthcare in this country, and much if it does nothing to improve health outcomes. So I tend to stay on the cautious side when it comes to taking medication, getting surgery, and even taking the advice of the purveyors of modern medicine.
One “preventive” treatment that is getting some controversy is the question of how frequently women should get a mammogram? And, at what age should you get the first one? The answer to these two questions has been debated ever since the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended women get mammograms every other year after age 50. And, they also said that getting biennial mammograms before that age is a personal choice that depends on the patient’s situation.
This statement contradicts the recommendation made by the American Cancer Society (ACS). According to the ACS, women should have an annual mammogram starting at age 40. So, which recommendation should you follow?
Research Compares Annual to Biennial Mammograms
Research funded by the National Cancer Institute used information the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium had collated. Data was provided by about 170,000 women who had their first screening mammogram between the ages of 40 and 50, as well as 4,500 women who had invasive breast cancer.
Results show that there’s a small, but not significant, increase in the chance that women diagnosed with breast cancer had a more advanced case if they underwent screening every other year instead of every year.
False-Positives Are Common
Just like any other diagnostic test, false-positives are common with mammograms. There’s a seven to nine percent chance that your mammogram result is a false-positive. You might be called back to undergo a biopsy because of a result that turns out to be erroneous. Researchers noted that those false-positive results may cause inconvenience and anxiety.
According to biostatistician and study researcher Rebecca Hubbard, PhD, “In most cases, a recall doesn’t mean you have cancer.” To cut your chance of a false-positive result in half, present previous mammograms to the interpreting radiologist for comparison.
Digital vs. Film Mammography
A related study showed that film and digital mammography were similarly effective in detecting cancers in most women. Digital mammography takes an electronic image that is stored in a computer. Both use X-ray, but in film mammography, the image is created directly on film. Unlike with film mammography, radiologists can use software to manipulate digital mammograms so they may be easier to interpret.
You may also want to see what nine medical societies have to say about the safety of other tests. You can see their recommendations at http://choosingwisely.org/?page_id=13.
Really, though, mammograms don’t prevent breast cancer. In my opinion, staying lean, eating a good diet, and moderating alcohol content will probably make a much bigger difference. What do you think?