A 25-year study of 90,000 women found that mammograms do nothing to lower the death rate from breast cancer. That's pretty strong evidence, to say the least. And it's only the latest from many studies over the past several years indicating that mammography often doesn't help prevent advanced cancer.
Yet women and, even more crucially, their doctors remain unwilling to give up annual mammograms. Five years ago, when a panel of experts convened by the U.S. government looked at the available evidence and concluded that women in their 40s should stop being screened for breast cancer, and that those aged 50 to 75 should be screened only every other year, 3 in 4 women said they simply disagreed. The secretary of Health and Human Services felt obliged to speak out against the experts' recommendation.
What's going on here? A fear of breast cancer, to begin with, which is understandable. But there's also an abiding belief that the best way to fight cancer is to find any sign of it early and root it out despite evidence demonstrating that's not entirely true, and that overscreening can lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment. What's needed is a strategy to align public perception with scientific consensus.