Huge study questions value of mammography (Part 1)

Research suggesting that mammography may not be beneficial was covered by some of the nation’s most widely-read newspapers as well as on several medical websites. Much of the coverage focuses on the controversy that continues to surround mammography.

Many articles also highlight criticisms of the new study. In a 1,100-word front-page story, the New York Times reports that research published in the British Medical Journal, “one of the largest and most meticulous studies of mammography ever done, involving 90,000 women and lasting a quarter-century, has added powerful new doubts about the value of the screening test for women of any age.”

The findings may “lead to an even deeper polarization between those who believe that regular mammography saves lives, including many breast cancer patients and advocates for them, and a growing number of researchers who say the evidence is lacking or, at the very least, murky.”

In a 1,000-word story, the Los Angeles Times reports that investigators “examined the medical records of 89,835 women in six Canadian provinces between the ages of 40 and 59. All of the trial participants received annual physical breast examinations, while half of them also had yearly mammogram screenings for five years, beginning in 1980.”

During “the next 25 years, 3,250 of the 44,925 women in the mammography arm of the study were diagnosed with breast cancer, along with 3,133 of the 44,910 women in the control group.”

Meanwhile, a nearly identical number of patients from each group died of breast cancer.

In a separate story, the New York Times reports that the new findings will add to the controversy surrounding the value of mammograms. Further complicating the issue is the fact that different medical groups have different recommendations regarding mammography.

USA Today reports that “Barbara Monsees, a radiologist with the American College of Radiology, says the … study is fundamentally flawed and useless for drawing conclusions.”

The Boston Globe reports that some “have questioned whether the women in the Canadian study were properly randomized since a significantly higher number of women in the mammography group were diagnosed with advanced cancers during the first year or two of the study than those in the control group.”

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