Mammograms in England and the US

A leter to the London Times has lead British medical authorities at least to plan to rewrite leaflets that give women ‘the standard advice’ about mammograms.  The letter, whose lead signer is apparently a very distinguished professor emeritus of surgery, mentions a forthcoming study that finds that “if 2,000 women are screened regularly for ten years, one will benefit from the screening, as she will avoid dying from breast cancer. At the same time, ten healthy women will, as a consequence, become “cancer patients” and will be treated unnecessarily.”  The letter also asserts that about 50% of the genuinely positive cases detected by mammograms are too slow growing to be worth treating.

This is worrying from a number of  points of view.  Mammograms are promoted much more aggressively in the US, and I don’t think I have ever heard of a positive result that led to no action (though of course I could just not be well informed). 

The second link above will take you to a fairly detailed report on the story.

The idea of a slow-growing tumor is sometimes cited in prostate cases, but  it is worth asking whether it is something women might be told in cases of breast cancer.

3 thoughts on “Mammograms in England and the US

  1. This does a nice job of breaking it down:
    It has been a growing problem with advances in medical imaging; there is an entire category of tumors referred to in the literature as “incidentalomas” because they are found but would not otherwise have been found (especially in things like brain tumors found in MRI images for psychology studies that had a non-medical primary intent)… it’s becoming really easy to over-treat due to the over-medicalization of society.

  2. Reminds me of Carol Tavris’ book “The Mismeasure of Woman” in which Tavris argues that a lot of normal processes in the female body are pathologized, including PMS and menopause.

    The scary thing to me – I just had a mammogram on Monday! – is what should we do? Say they find one of those “incidentalomas” – I won’t know whether it’s nothing to worry about and thus I wouldn’t have to throw down a lot of money (and risk other health impacts). I find this so frustrating! No wonder there’s so much distrust of the medical industry in the US!

  3. NFAH: great link; thanks. And while the society is over-medicalized, the resources are not infinite (or free everything) and so some dire needs are not met.

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