Study: Mammogram Benefits Overestimated, Harm Underestimated

By CBS News

Published 04/01 2014 06:29PM

Updated 04/01 2014 06:31PM

CBSNews -- There's been a lot of debate in recent years on mammograms. Now, researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital have done one of the largest reviews to date.

Marie Seaquist was diagnosed with breast cancer at 43 after a mammogram picked up her cancer.

“I eat right, I exercise and most importantly I didn't feel anything, we were devastated,” she says.

A review of 50 years' worth of research suggests the benefits of mammography are overestimated.

”Mammography does have some benefit in the likelihood of dying from breast cancer,” says Dr. Nancy Keating, with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. “But these benefits are relatively modest and particularly for women who are at very low risk of breast cancer, the benefits are quite small.”

The review estimates mammograms reduce death by about 19 percent. For women in their 40s, it's 15 percent, and for women in their 60s, it's about 32 percent.

But researchers say there are harms such as false positives which can lead to unnecessary biopsies and treatment.

The new research suggests women talk to their doctors about breast cancer screening and make an individual decision based on their age and risk.

Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital says it's not just about survival, it's about finding tumors sooner so women have choices.

“You need to catch cancers early because the treatment will be easier and less involved,” says Bernik.

Seaquist opted for a double mastectomy and just finished a year of chemotherapy.
“I feel great,” she says. “I feel great. I do.”

Seaquist believes her mammogram saved her life.

The American Cancer Society recommends women at average risk for breast cancer start getting mammograms at age 40.

The new review appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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