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What Doctors Don't Tell You

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October 2020 (Vol. 5 Issue 7)

Routine mammograms aren't life-savers, say researchers
About the author: 
Bryan Hubbard

Routine mammograms aren't life-savers, say researchers image

Are routine mammograms to detect breast cancer actually worth having? When you weigh up the low number of lives they're saving, and the high number of false cases they're detecting, it's all very marginal, a new study has concluded.

At worst, they aren't saving any lives in the over-50s, and their benefits have decreased over the yearsand they are also hopelessly inaccurate, wrongly detecting cancer in half of all cases they see. A 'false-positive' reading, as it's known, can result in a great deal of emotional upset and even unnecessary treatment.

By comparison, more effective treatments have reduced breast cancer's mortality rate by 28 per cent, say researchers from the International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon, France.

They looked at the routine screening programme in the Netherlands, which was introduced in 1989 for all women aged between 50 and 75 years, who were invited to have a mammogram every two years.

An earlier assessment in 1993 concluded that the programme was reducing breast cancer death rates by 5 per cent, but when the Lyon researchers carried out their own analysis, which took into account the outcome of screenings up to 2012, they found that the rate of lives saved had dropped to zero. And looking at the figures for the two years to 2012, the researchers also discovered that 52 per cent of cases that had been detected were, in fact, false-positives.


(Source: BMJ, 2017; 359: j5224)

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