The Checkup

New data for the mammogram debate

Monday, September 27, 2010; 6:38 PM

Adapted from The Post's daily health blog New data for the mammogram debate

There's a new salvo in one of the most politically and emotionally charged debates in medicine: How often should women get routine mammograms?

A study published in this week's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine analyzed data gathered in Norway between 1996 and 2005 on more than 40,000 women in their 50s and 60s. Regular mammograms reduced the risk of dying from breast cancer by just 10 percent, far less than had been thought even by the panel that raised questions about mammograms during the debate about overhauling the U.S. health-care system.

The overall breast cancer death rate in the United States has been decreasing two percent a year since 1990. Previous estimates had attributed 15 to 23 percent of this reduction to mammograms. Instead, the findings suggest that the drop in deaths from breast cancer have come mostly as a result of other factors, such as better treatment and awareness of the disease.

Put another way, the study indicates that if 1,000 50-year-old women were screened over a decade, 995.6 women would not die from breast cancer instead of 996.

- Rob Stein

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