A large mammography screening study from Sweden made the news. The study assessed whether regular mammography saves lives in women ages 40-49. The study compared women in counties that offered routine screening to women in counties that didn’t. There was a higher death rate among women in the counties that did not offer regular mammography.
If the death rate is lower when regular mammography is offered, shouldn’t all women in the 40-49 age group get regular screening mammography? Well, it may not be that simple. First, while the death rate without regular mammography was higher by about 30 percent, the death rate was still rather low, with 11 deaths per 10,000 women with screening, and 14 deaths per 10,000 women without screening. For the three people in 10,000 who die needlessly, this is huge. For the other 9,997 women out of 10,000, the additional screening doesn’t save a life. And there is the possibility that many of those women will suffer needlessly from false positive results.
Whether or not screening mammography should be done in women in the 40-49 age group without risk factors seems to be a decision those women should make in consultation with their doctors. To hear more about it, listen to the Getting Better Health Care show we did on this topic.