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New Study Supports View That Early Mammography Screening Reduces Death Rate From Breast Cancers

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An article published in the journal Cancer suggests that mammograms can cut the breast cancer death rate by as much as 26% for women in their 40s. The findings of this article contrast with the report by the United States Preventive Services Task Force that downplayed the importance of mammograms for women under 50. The main researchers for this article were European doctors who were able to benefit from circumstances in Sweden, where since 1986 some counties have offered mammograms to women in their 40s and others have not, according to the lead author, Hakan Jonsson, professor of cancer epidemiology at Umea University in Sweden.

The European doctors compared breast cancer deaths in women who had a breast cancer diagnosis in counties that had screening with deaths in counties that did not. The rate was an amazing 26 percent lower in counties with screening.

The results have been met with skepticism but some researchers who claim that the researchers did not compare the broader breast cancer death rates in the counties, but instead only counted the number of women who received a diagnosis of breast cancer and also died of it.

Nevertheless, some advocates for early screening look at this article as capturing "the real-world experience of mammograms in this age group,” according to Dr. Jennifer C. Obel of the oncology society. She suggested that all women, starting at age 40, should “speak to their doctors about mammograms.” Another expert was more blunt:

"It is now time to stop confusing women with conflicting information. Mammography is a lifesaver for women in their 40s," said Gail Lebovic, MD, breast surgeon and president of the American Society of Breast Disease. "What providers need to do now is uniformly confirm for women that they need to start getting annual mammograms beginning at age 40 and work to build on the ability of mammography to detect cancer early, when it is most treatable."