Study: Mammography rewards outweigh risks

A review of breast cancer screening in Europe has concluded that the benefits for women ages 50 to 69 outweigh the risk of overdiagnosis. Researchers publishing this week in The Journal of Medical Screening estimated that screening reduced the number of deaths from breast cancer by 50 percent, reports.

The study put the number of women overdiagnosed at four in 1,000. Another 170 would be recalled for a non-invasive procedure and 30 recalled for an invasive procedure before cancer would be ruled out. Seven to nine lives would be saved from the 1,000 screened, according to the researchers

"In particular, it is good news that lives saved by screening outweigh overdiagnosed cases by a factor of two to one," said Stephen Duffy, professor of cancer screening at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary, University of London, according to

Duffy is coordinator for the European Screening Network (Euroscreen) working group, which reviewed results from screening programs in nine countries. Their assessment also took into account findings from a second working group, the Network for Indicators on Cancer, which reviewed results from 26 screening programs in 18 countries involving 12 million women.

A study published in April in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the risk of overdiagnosis is greater for women in the U.S. since they begin screening 10 years earlier than in Europe. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends women 50 to 74 have a mammogram every two years.

Recent research has raised the possibility that mammography or chest X-rays before age 30 can be detrimental to some genetically susceptible women. Researchers, however, are pursing alternatives to mammography, including lasers, which eliminate radiation exposure.


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