Since mammograms became standard, millions of American women have been subjected to unnecessary and invasive medical treatments for harmless tumors, a new study finds.
The results could further add doubt to what's already a controversial screening tool aimed at detecting tumors before they spread.
'We estimated that breast cancer was overdiagnosed -- i.e. tumors were detected on screening that would never have led to clinical symptoms -- in 1.3 million US women in the past 30 years,' wrote Gilbert Welch, of Dartmout Medical School, and Archie Bleyer, of the Oregon Health and Science University, in their study which was published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dangerous: Researchers say regular mammograms lead women to major medical treatments to treat tumors that could amount to very litte
'We estimated that in 2008, breast cancer was overdiagnosed in more than 70,000 women; this accounted for 31 per cent of all breast cancer diagnosed,' they said.
Their research concluded that since mammograms became standard in the U.S., the number of early-stage breast cancers detected doubled. However, in that same time frame, the rate of women diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer has only dropped 9 per cent.
The patients were then treated with major medial procedures like surgery, radiology, hormone therapy, andchemotherapy.
Those treatments take toll on the body and should only be used when there is no other recourse, the authors said.
Rather than early detection from mammograms, they concluded that significant reduction in breast cancer deaths is due to vastly improved treatment.
Early detection: Researchers say that while early-stage diagnosis rates have doubled, late-stage diagnosis have only dropped 9 per cent
Mammograms are already the subject of some controversy in the medical community after several studies were released questioning it effectiveness.
In one study from Norway, researchers concluded that regular mammograms reduced risk of death from breast cancer by 10 per cent per patient. But another study comparing European countries showed that mammograms didn't change the death rate at all.
Controversy: Researchers are arguing over when a woman should start getting mammograms, and how often
In 2009, a group of independent experts commissioned by the U.S. government revised the official recommendations, saying that women should not get a mammogram until 50 and have one every other year, rather than once per year starting at 40.
But still yet another article published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine argued that the risk overdiagnosis wasn't great enough to outweigh the benefits of starting regular mammograms at 40.
'Screening can be thought of as a kind of insurance,' wrote Robert Smith in that study. 'As with all insurance , there are costs for protection against adverse events that have a low probability of occurrence but could be catastrophic if they occurred without insurance.'
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