Breast cancer study changes views on mammograms

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A surprising new study suggests mammograms aren’t as effective at preventing breast cancer deaths as doctors once thought. Key to understanding this study is it focuses on whether mammograms reduce deaths. For healthy women under 50, the study finds, it doesn’t.

Mammograms can be lifesavers, detecting breast cancer in its early stage.

However, the latest breast cancer research finds they’re not helping prevent breast cancer deaths among healthy women.

“I try not to focus on things that I don’t want to happen so I don’t think they’re very necessary. The more focus we put on it, the more prevalent they’ll be,” said Angela Fontaine of Chicopee.

Oncologist Dr. Wilson Mertens of the Baystate Regional Cancer Program told 22News about these findings even before the study was released this week.

“Did we reduce breast cancer-related deaths and overall deaths in population that’s getting a screening test compared to our usual career accumulating data suggests that screened mammography isn’t as effective as we think it is,” Dr. Mertens told 22News.

Dr. Mertens wanted to clarify mammograms are still extremely effective for women who have a family history of breast cancer or are older than 50. This study focuses only on women who are at low risk.

Mertens told 22News advances in mammography do continue to find more cancer cells in patients, but not all cancer cells are deadly. He said it can be riskier to undergo radiation and biopsies than it is to live with cancer cells. Not everyone agrees.

“Knowledge is…I’d rather have a mammogram and they say you look good. We’ll see you in a year,” said Maydejo Authier of Holyoke.

Dr. Mertens suggests talking with your primary care doctor before any preventive screenings. According to Dr. Mertens, future research should focus on better cancer treatment rather than better mammogram technology.

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