NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Panel Casts Doubts on Mammograms

January 25, 2002

An independent panel of experts has done an about-face on the value of mammograms in detecting breast cancer. Whereas it once validated evidence that mammograms could prevent breast cancer deaths starting at age 40, it now claims that seven large studies of mammography have serious flaws that weaken or cast doubts on the studies' validity.

The group, called the P.D.Q. screening and prevention editorial board -- which writes information for the National Cancer Institute's online data base -- says that it is possible that mammograms are beneficial, and also possible that they are not.

  • The group focused on flaws in the studies recently uncovered by two scientists in Denmark.
  • The scientists concluded that the case for screening was unproven -- that the studies were so poorly designed and carried out that they may have found benefits when there were none or exaggerated what benefits there were.
  • None of the studies found that mammography prolonged life and even when the studies were analyzed as a group, women who had the test lived no longer -- dying of diseases other than breast cancer.

Questions concerning mammograms took on a political aspect in 1997.

A panel convened by the National Institutes of Health had concluded there was no evidence the test prevented breast cancer deaths in women under 50. Before the week was over, the panel's chairman was summoned by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) to testify before Congress. Later, going against the conclusions of the panel convened at its behest, the institute said women in their 40s should have mammograms.

Source: Gina Kolata, "Expert Panel Cites Doubts on Mammogram's Worth," New York Times, January 24, 2002.

 

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