Many overstate mammograms' role in saving lives, study suggests

About 25% of breast cancer survivors avoided death because they had a mammogram, but 75% would have had the same outcome if they detected the lump themselves or received no treatment, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

For the study, Dartmouth University researchers used National Cancer Institute software to estimate the 10-year risk of diagnoses with invasive breast cancer or ductal carcinoma in situ and 20-year risk of death for women of various ages. They also accounted for the benefits of early detection and improved treatments. They concluded that among the 60% of women with breast cancer who were diagnosed through screening mammograms, 3% to 13% of them were helped by the test.

The findings translate to 4,000 to 18,000 women who benefit from screening mammography each year, representing a small portion of the 230,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer annually and an even smaller fraction of the 39 million women who undergo mammograms annually (Kaplan, "Booster Shots," Los Angeles Times, 10/24; Parker-Pope, "Well," New York Times, 10/24; Phend, MedPage Today, 10/24).

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