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Study: Mammograms offer modest benefit

September 23, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Mammograms don't help women over 50 as much as has been believed, new research suggests.Virginia Morris says that regular cancer screening saves lives. That's why she gets a mammogram every single year.

"My husband died of lung cancer," said Morris. "I think early detection is the issue of cancers."

A study out of Norway concludes mammograms reduce the risk of an early death, but the benefit is disappointingly low.

Researchers traced the breast cancer death rates in women over 50 who got regular mammograms and compared those to the death rate in an older group of women who didn't get screening. They found mammograms made little difference.

According to the study, researchers say some 2,500 would have to be screened regularly for 10 years in order for one life to be saved.

"My impressions of the study are it's actually a good study. However, I don't think number one we can't compare apples to oranges," said Saddleback Memorial Hospital radiologist Dr. Karen Reuss.

Other doctors say they feel the same way and advised women not to be discouraged about these findings.

"My advice would be to actually to continue with current recommendations. I have had personal experience with people having early detection and saving their lives," said Dr. Karen Don of Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center.

Morris worries the new research could lead insurance companies to reduce their coverage.

Many women say they plan to disregard the study's findings and say mammography should be a choice between a woman and her doctor.

"You have to make that decision for yourself," said Joan Lucy of Los Angeles. "I think if you have a history of breast cancer in your family it's one thing that you can do for yourself."

In the study, women who were screened had a 10 percent lower risk of death from breast cancer. But experts say most of that benefit wasn't from the screening, but rather due to better treatment and greater awareness of the disease.

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