Scientists are warning of an "overdiagnosis" of tumors in the breasts due to mammograms, which are not leading to a decrease in breast cancer mortality but are resulting in more stress for patients.
A new study has found that women may be getting entirely too many mammograms, and it’s actually having a net harmful effect without any noticeable benefits.
What researchers found is that frequent mammograms are great at turning up smaller tumors, but the risk of dying of breast cancer doesn’t decrease in those who get them more often. Joann Elmore, a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, said that it’s most likely a phenomenon of “the more you screen, the more you are likely to detect” objects in the breast that could result in further screening to spot precancerous abnormalities, according to a National Public Radio report.
Researchers examined 16 million women of at least 40 years of age to come to their conclusions. All of them had undergone breast cancer screening in 2000, and about 53,207 were eventually diagnoses with breast cancer between that initial diagnosis and up until December 2010.
Although these screenings turned up 16 percent more cancers, the mortality rate remained the same. About 25 percent more small tumors were found, and about 7 percent more large tumors.
Although past studies have indicated a 20 percent drop in breast cancer mortality associated with the additional screenings, it could be that these results are flawed because of the rarity of breast cancer mortality, resulting in not enough data points to go off of.
The early screenings appear to turn up a lot of smaller tumors but very little correlation with mortality decline, according to the most recent study. And that’s potentially harmful because mammograms can be stressful psychologically when they turn something up that later turns out to be nothing.
The findings suggest that scientists need to do a better job of finding a balance between too few screenings and too many, and it may depend on the patient’s individual needs.