New mammogram study raises a lot of questions

(La Jolla) A recent study out of Denmark says mammograms lead to unneeded treatment for some breast cancers. The study is creating controversy because doctors worry it’s confusing a lot of women about when they should be screened for breast cancer.

Dr. Anne Wallace is the director of the Moores Comprehensive Breast Health Center at UCSD. She read the study conducted by Danish researchers and says she has mixed feelings about it.

“We have many years of data saying that mammograms do save lives,” says Dr. Anne Wallace from the UCSD Moores Comprehensive Breast Health Center.

The study just published this week says one in three women with breast cancer detected by a mammogram are treated unnecessarily. It also says that mammograms detected tumors so slow-growing, they’re essentially harmless, but the patient was treated with radiation or chemotherapy.

“To put that burden all on a mammogram isn’t really the purpose of a mammogram,” says Dr. Wallace, “We don’t want women to get the message that I shouldn’t get a mammogram because it’s only picking up the cancers that are never going to be harmful to me, because that’s just not true.”

On a positive note, Dr. Wallace says the study points out that if a mammogram detects something small, a woman shouldn’t over react.

“A small finding means a small treatment and so the message in this is even if you have something, have a good balanced discussion with your physician and don’t think you need to have tons and tons of treatment for something that might be really small,” says Dr. Wallace.

With so many different guidelines for how often and what age a woman should a get a mammogram, Dr. Wallace says you can talk with your doctor about that too.

“It’s very confusing, it’s very hard for everybody to keep up with the little sound bites you get from some of these studies. It can be very overwhelming,” says Dr. Wallace.

Dr. Wallace says if your primary physician can’t answer all of your questions, you can check with a radiologists or a breast health clinic. They will all be able to help you figure out when and how often you should be screened for breast cancer.

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