New Study Questions Benefits of Mammography

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COLUMBIA - A new study released by the New England Journal of Medicine shows that mammography might not be as beneficial as many doctors expect. According to the study, the death rate of women with breast cancer has decreased by 28% because of better treatment options, not mammography. The study contradicts doctor's advice that women over 40 should get yearly mammograms. That is not going over well with local doctors and breast cancer survivors.

"I would say people should take this study with caution. Caution to everyone who reads that is not jumping to the conclusion that, ‘I don't need a mammogram because that's what this paper says,'" said Paul Dale chief of surgical oncology at Ellis Fischel.

The study, written by two doctors, also suggests that 70% of the women diagnosed with breast cancer would have survived without ever being diagnosed, the report says breast cancer was "overdiagnosed" in 1.3 million women in the U.S. over the past 30 years. According to the study, women who are misdiagnosed undergo various cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, and those treatments could lead to other life threatening cancers such as leukemia. But according to Dale, the study overlooked one important factor.

"The problem is, I can't tell which women are the ones I can leave alone and the ones that I can't. And by the time I figure that out, those women are probably gonna (going to) die," Dale said. "Right now, it would be taking a big risk if you walked into my office and I said, ‘a third...a third of women are gonna (going to) do fine without doing anything. I just don't know if you're that third.' What are you gonna (going to) do?"

When local breast cancer survivors heard of the study, their response was similar to local doctors. Rosie Verslues, a breast cancer survivor for 26 years, said doctors would not have been able to catch her cancer at such an early stage if she did not get a yearly mammogram.

"At 39 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And probably had I not taken that preventative step in getting my breast checked, it could have been a lot more invasive," Verslues said.

Now, Verslues is the leader of a breast cancer support group called Encouragement through Caring (ETC) in Jefferson City. She said she strongly encourages women over 40 to get mammograms just to be safe.

"I wouldn't have known about my breast cancer, and I probably wouldn't be here today," fellow survivor of 18 years Linda Harvey said. She said mammography saved her life. Harvey also said it was crucial for her to monitor her breasts because she has a family history of breast cancer. She started getting mammograms at the age of 35.

So, should women over 40 get annual mammogram exams? Doctors and the American Cancer Society believe so.

"I still recommend women get screening mammography. I still believe there's a significant benefit to finding the cancer as early as possible," Dale said. "They (mammograms) do identify women that have breast cancers, and often times identify those cancers early so we can implement treatment on an individual basis...if you're an individual (woman) with breast cancer, you want to find it early. And the best way to do that is to continue to get your yearly screening."

And for women under the age of 40, Dale said you should check your breasts, and if you feel lumps or anything unusual notify your primary care physician.