A long-term Canadian study published Tuesday by the British Medical Journal has concluded that mammograms aren't better at saving lives than self exams.
According to researchers, "Annual mammography in women aged 40 to 59 does not reduce mortality from breast cancer beyond that of physical examination or usual care when adjuvant therapy for breast cancer is freely available." In other words, as long as you are checking the girls out once a month and have access to cancer treatments like chemo, radiation, and hormone therapy, mammogram screenings won't do anything more to help save your life.
The research was conducted over a 25-year span, making it one of the longest on the topic. One group of women completed only breast self-exams, while the other performed exams and received mammograms. Study authors found that both groups had pretty comparable outcomes: 500 died from breast cancer in the mammogram and self-breast exam category, and 505 died from breast cancer in the self-breast exam-only category. You may be asking yourself: Isn't it better to be safe than sorry? Turns out, being overly cautious and getting more mammograms could cause more concern than necessary. Twenty-two percent of invasive cancers detected during screening were over-diagnosed, meaning those abnormal growths wouldn't have caused any problems had the women not been screened.
However, experts are saying the new study's methods were flawed and the technolgy used was outdated. The American College of Radiology and Society of Breast Imaging released a statement saying the results, "should not be used to create breast cancer screening policy as this would place a great many women at increased risk of dying unnecessarily from breast cancer."
Our takeaway: Screenings are still important, but the verdict is out on just how often is good and how often is too much. One thing is for sure: Don't slack on those self examinations. Don't know how to do one? Find out here.