Dec 1, 2009

Astonishing Reversal

In a recent news item it said, "Most women should wait until age 50 to get mammograms and then have one every two years, a government task force said Monday in a major reversal that conflicts with the American Cancer Society's long-standing recommendation of annual screening starting at 40.

Also, the task force said breast self-exams do no good and women shouldn't be taught to do them."


The Associated Press report said, "For nearly two decades, the cancer society has been recommending regular mammograms beginning at 40. But the government panel of doctors and scientists concluded that getting screened for breast cancer so early and so often is harmful, causing too many false alarms and unneeded biopsies without substantially improving women's odds of surviving the disease."

Someone commenting on this new item wrote:

Rigorous studies show that women screened die at the same rate as women who are not screened. The reasons are probably some combination of the fact that screening detects tumors that are less likely to be lethal and misses the fast growing lethal tumors, screening results in dangerous treatments that have life-threatening side effects, screening itself may cause tumors because of the radiation doses, still-ineffective treatments even after decades of research, or some other factor.

The ineffectiveness of cancer screening (not limited to mammography) is one of the most depressing things that I have dealt with in my career as a researcher. (I am a Biostatistics Professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.)

He went on to say:

In the general population, mammography screening for breast cancer in the general population has been PROVEN not to reduce breast cancer mortality in women under the age of 50. A drug that is proven to be useless is pulled from the market!

This morning I had an email exchange with the (frum) chief of radiology at one of the major New York hospitals. She has been concerned for a long time that radiation from imaging may well be *causing* some of the cancers that are detected by mammography.

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