A new Norwegian study of 40,000 women ages 50 to 69 suggests that mammograms may not help women over the age of 50 as much as we once thought. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine is the latest to fuel the debate over whether regular mammograms are necessary for women in this age group. According to the study, regular mammograms for women in this age group only offered a modest decrease in mortality.
Unfortunately this is the kind of medical study that gets a lot of publicity confuses women. Last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded that women at average risk for breast cancer don't need mammograms in their 40s and should only get one every two years starting at the age of 50. The World Health Organization estimates that mammograms reduce the breast cancer death rate by 25 percent in women over 50, and other groups report about a 15 to 23 percent reduction.
An editorial written on the study points out the high rate of false positives and unnecessary biopsies that come with these mammograms. But mammograms are currently our best tool for early detection, and these "percentages" represent someone's mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, daughter or friend - they're not mere statistics, but rather lives lost to disease that is treatable if its caught early enough.
So ladies, I'd like to clear it up for you. The bottom line is: Women should not take this information as the rule to live by - look at your risk factors and family history. Sometimes studies are released for the medical community to look at and discuss, but they should not be the last word on medical practice, because every woman is different - and so is every doctor. If you're over the age of 40, talk to your doctor about getting a mammogram. At the end of the day, women should know that if they are 40 years old or older, they should get a yearly mammogram at a certified hospital or facility.