Research - mammograms don't save lives

Posted on Monday, August 17, 2015

On 11 February the British Medical Journal published a Canadian study that showed that regular mammography does not reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer among women. It goes without saying that the media went crazy with headlines around the world shoutin, Mammograms do not save lives!

With the new finding, how does this change your opinion on mammogram testing? And what new measures should you employ to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer? We spoke to South African breast surgeon Dr Sarah Rayne to find the answers for you.

What did the study say?
The 25-year study, which tracked nearly 90 000 middle-aged women, concluded that annual mammography does not result in a reduction in the number of deaths as a result of breast cancer when compared to self-examination and annual medical check-ups. In short, the study suggested that the value of mammography should be re-evaluated. But don't cancel your annual mammogram just yet.

The facts behind the research
Dr Rayne explains that the study was conducted in Canada where women are well-educated about their health backed by an efficient government healthcare system. Sadly, this is not the case in South Africa! Even the study's authors acknowledged that the results would probably not be the same in other countries.

Furthermore, the information in the study was based on mammograms carried out 25 years ago and mammography has become a lot more advanced since then. The medical fraternity also has concerns about the way in which the study was carried out as other studies have shown a reduction in deaths as a result of early detection of cancer by mammograms.

In a nutshell, while this study may have cast public doubts on the value of mammography, doctors remain confident that mammogram tests are the best way to detect and protect against breast cancer. As a result, the medical fraternity is not revising its recommendations around the frequency of mammograms just yet.

Breast health 101
You should carry out breast self-examinations at the same time every month and have an annual clinical examination by a medical practitioner. After the age of 40, you should have a mammography at intervals recommended by your practitioner.

The most important thing is to be breast aware, Dr Rayne says. Examine your breasts, or have them examined by a physician. If you do find something to be concerned about, make sure that you get an answer as to what it is which will almost always involve some sort of imaging such as an ultrasound or mammogram.

By being breast aware and taking responsibility of your health, you can significantly reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, which affects one in 31 women in South Africa.

Any questions?
If you're concerned breast cancer-related questions, get in touch with Dr Rayne by visiting the Netcare Breast Care Unit website and clicking on the button Ask Dr Sarah'. She also holds a free breast examination clinic on Wednesday mornings at the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg.

Good to know!

Breast cancer: know your risk
Certain women are more at risk of contracting breast cancer than others. What is your risk profile?

The 1st for Women Foundation
1st for Women Insurance policyholders automatically donate a portion of their premiums to the 1st for Women Insurance Foundation. The main goal of the 1st for Women Insurance Foundation is to uplift, assist and empower the women of our country. One of the causes supported by the trust is cervical cancer. Find out more.

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