Here’s an article in the NY Times about a new mammogram study that’s gotten a lot of attention.
And here’s the study itself.
Compare and contrast.
The first sentence of the Times article:
One of the largest and most meticulous studies of mammography ever done, involving 90,000 women and lasting a quarter-century, has added powerful new doubts about the value of the screening test for women of any age.
From the study’s abstract:
Objective: To compare breast cancer incidence and mortality up to 25 years in women aged 40-59 who did or did not undergo mammography screening…
Conclusion: Annual mammography in women aged 40-59 does not reduce mortality from breast cancer beyond that of physical examination or usual care when adjuvant therapy for breast cancer is freely available.
There were many more details, of course. Both articles are long, especially the study. But the Times article never even mentions the age limitations of the study, and that first sentence in the Times implies that women of all ages were part of the study, which they were not. The study explicitly dealt only with woman between the ages of 40 and 59.
I wonder what the Times’ agenda might be here, although never underestimate the possibility of mere shoddy and slipshod reporting.
The study itself offers some evidence that annual mammograms in those age groups don’t reduce mortality significantly as compared to regular breast examination (not as compared to nothing). There are the usual problems with methodology in large epidemiological studies of this type, and there are other studies of the subject that agree and disagree. But this one should certainly add to the amount of information that we have, as well as the amount of confusion.
Why does age matter so much? Breast cancer is not a unitary disease. There are many types, and the disease in younger women often works somewhat differently than in older women. Let’s not forget, by the way, that 1 in 100 cases of breast cancer occur in men.