Relook benefits of routine mammogram
Dr Rachel Teoh, MBBS, Dip Fam Med, Dip Derm
Doctors and patients alike want to detect disease while the disease is still treatable. On the other hand, we do not want too many false positives and overdiagnosis.
Studies found that more breast cancers of smaller size were detected as more women are screened with mammogram. Many of these tumours were restricted to the ducts within the breast that would never threaten the health of the woman even without treatment. In addition to this, detection of larger, more aggressive breast cancers are not falling in frequency despite vigilant routine mammogram. And it is essential to understand that the study’s authors did not suggest that mammogram is useless. About 20% of women with small tumours received treatment that might be lifesaving. But the other 80% of women did not benefit. Similarly, estimates suggest that about 70% of breast cancer death in recent years is due to better treatments, not better detection.
When to start mammograms
The decision to perform mammogram should be carefully discussed with your doctor, to help you to make an informed, value-based decision. Mammogram can detect breast cancer early. However, there can be false positives; the test results may suggest cancer and lead to additional testing that ultimately finds no cancer. There is also a possibility that mammogram detects a cancer that is so slow growing that it may never cause health problems.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice and readers are advised to seek advice from me personally.