Study: Annual mammograms unnecessary, harmful

Due to a high likelihood of receiving a false-positive result, researchers at the University of California San Francisco have determined that annual mammograms for women are unnecessary. More than 50 percent of women will receive at least one false-positive recall after 10 years of yearly mammograms, a study published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine concludes.

What's more, no significant difference was discovered in the number of late stage cancers found in women who were screened once a year vs. once every other year, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

The findings resurrect a debate that raged in 2009 and 2010 after the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that women 50 years and older undergo mammograms only every other year. After much criticism, the Task Force changed its tune, saying that in hind sight, it should have listened to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' recommendation for yearly screenings for women beginning at age 40.

"For some reason, there's been this mantra that we should get [mammograms] every year," Dr. Kara Kerlikowske, a professor of epidemiology at UCSF and one of the study's authors, told the Chronicle. "But there's plenty of data out there that shows no added benefit and definitely more harm. Our study really quantifies the harm, and the harm is pretty large."

Such harm can include unnecessary radiation treatments for the aforementioned false-positive results, a study published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine concluded.

A more recent study, published in July in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that computer-aided detection (CAD) technology--which is used in roughly 75 percent of mammograms conducted in the United States--does a poor job of finding tumors in breast cancer patients, leading to further unnecessary testing. Such technology costs Medicare $30 million annually, according to the report.

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract
- read this San Francisco Chronicle article