Mammograms: Putting Headlines in Context

As an organization that focuses on helping people reduce their risk and survive cancer, we’re getting a lot of questions about a major study released this week on mammograms. And if you’ve read about the study questioning the benefits of mammograms, there’s a good chance you’re confused.mammogram_dreamstime_xs_21847816

The Canadian study involving about 90,000 women ages 40-59 was published this week in the British Medical Journal. The study spanned 25 years and during that time about half the women received regular mammograms and annual breast exams; the other half only had the breast exams.

The study found that whether the women received regular mammograms or not, a similar number of women died from breast cancer over the years.

The value of regular mammogram screening has been controversial for awhile– five years ago the United States Preventive Service Task Force (USPSTF) changed its guidelines, recommending that regular mammogram screening begin at age 50 every two years rather than age 40 every year. As we wrote at that time, AICR’s recommendations relate to the prevention of cancer through diet, weight and physical activity; for screenings, like mammography, AICR’s materials rely on the National Cancer Institute recommendations.

Your own decision about mammography is best made in consultation with your health care provider who can help you weigh the risks and benefits based on your history and personal risk factors.

For more on the study and perspectives from other organizations, here’s a CNN article.

For prevention, AICR’s expert report and it’s continuous updates have found that lifestyle matters. There are specific steps you can take to lower your risk for breast cancers.  For postmenopausal breast cancers, for example:

  • aim to be physically active at least 30 minutes every day,
  • get to and stay a healthy weight
  • avoid alcoholic beverages or if you do drink, limit to 1 drink a day.

AICR estimates that about 38% of breast cancer cases – about 90,000 every year – in the U.S. could be prevented by following those recommendations.

Learn more about the research on reducing risk for breast and other cancers.


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