The Mammogram Controversy

Mammograms are the gold standard for identifying breast cancer early, so it can be treated early — one of the most important factors in successful treatment.

But the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force have recommended less-frequent mammograms beginning at a later age than your doctor recommends. MANA’s The Breast Center of Northwest Arkansas, however, agrees with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the National Cancer Institute, and the American College of Radiology– and with most doctors (and most women): have an annual mammogram starting at age 40. For every 1,000 women who skip a year or wait a decade, one will die of breast cancer.

So why is there a controversy at all?

The top reason is the problem of false positives. Some women get a worrying result when they get a mammogram, but they do not actually have cancer. These women, the argument goes, will suffer unnecessary stress. They have to return to their doctors for additional examinations, and may have biopsies. They may also go ahead and take steps that are unnecessarily aggressive.

Some observers worry about the cost to the U.S. healthcare system of following up on false positives. Are fewer deaths from breast cancer worth additional costs? This may be an interesting philosophical question, but it might not have much to do with you.

Take the argument about false positives out of the abstract realm of economics and statistics, and apply it to yourself, or to your wife or mother or sister or daughter.

“Don’t have so many mammograms,” this argument says to women, “because a false positive might upset you. You might make bad choices because you’ll be all flustered. Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”

But your decision about your breast health can include your sensible understanding of the issue of false positives. You can discuss that with your doctor and make sure that you consider all the factors — genetic risk, for example, your lifestyle, and your personal health history — when you make decisions about your breast health needs with your physician.

Be smart about your health. Have your annual mammogram, beginning at age 40. Contact The Breast Center to make an appointment.

The Society of Breast Imaging produced the video “End the Confusion” and website to help answer your questions about mammography screening