Mammograms don't reduce cancer death rates, study finds

Mammograms don't reduce cancer death rates, study finds.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - "I think women need to take life into their own hands," said Kathleen O'Brien, a breast cancer survivor who has been in remission for two years.

Kathleen O'Brien is a breast cancer survivor -- thanks to a mammogram. In 2012, she had her annual screening at a Valley hospital and her doctor said she was fine, but she had a hunch that wasn't the case.

"They said you're fine and I questioned him and said you just said I don't have breast cancer and according to the internet, it says that I do," O'Brien said. 

O'Brien is no stranger to the disease: her mother and two sisters, all survivors as well. So after seeing her mammogram, she demanded a biopsy.

"I was stage three.  I went back about four days after and asked him to put my 2011 mammogram next to 2012 and I said, 'What is that spot?' and he said, 'That's where your breast cancer started,'" O'Brien recalls. 

But researchers with the Canadian National Breast Screening Study released a long-term study that concludes annual mammograms do not reduce breast cancer mortality. The 25-year study looked at nearly 90,000 women divided into two groups: one group receiving annual screenings, the other none. The latest data show almost identical results from the two groups.  

Local health experts find the study flawed.

"From a public health standpoint, we're only concerned about mortality. But when a woman gets a mammogram, she's concerned about whether she'll get breast cancer, and whether that cancer is diagnosed at a stage that's early when she can have a very minor intervention and be cured and move on. As opposed to being diagnosed late when she needs bigger surgery, loss of the breast, chemotherapy," said Dr. David Hyam, a surgical oncologist with Eisenhower Medical Center.

O'Brien, who received a double mastectomy after her diagnosis, says a mammogram saved her life and worries the study will deter women from getting a screening that could save theirs.

"I think that's misleading to the general public. I believe that mammograms save lives, they absolutely save lives," she said.

Dr. Hyam agrees, and hopes the study will instead stimulate conversation about future care for women. 

"This simply illustrates that we need to continue to move forward, we need to investigate new technologies and we need to refine how we personalize medicine," Dr. Hyam said.

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