A comprehensive review of mammograms finds that breast imaging creates an incomplete picture of a woman's cancer risk. Researchers looked at decades of studies and found the benefits are often overestimated and the harms underestimated.
Marie Seaquist was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 43. A mammogram picked up her cancer.
"I eat right, I exercise and most importantly I didn't feel anything, we were devastated," said Seaquist.
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, but these benefits are relatively modest and particularly for women who are at very low risk of breast cancer, the benefits are quite small," said Nancy Keating from Brigham and Women's Hospital.
The review estimates mammograms reduce death by about 19 percent. For women in their 40's, it's 15 percent, and for women in their 60's, 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, 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," said Bernik.
Marie opted for a double mastectomy and just finished a year of chemotherapy.
"I feel great. I feel great. I do," said Seaquist.
She 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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