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Screening mammograms save fewer lives than you think

BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
health world

October 24, 2011|By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times/For the Booster Shots blog

“This self-reinforcing cycle … is driven, in part, by the presumption that every screen-detected breast cancer survivor has had her ‘life saved’ because of screening,” the researchers write. “Our analyses suggest this is an exaggeration. In fact, a woman with screen-detected breast cancer is considerably more likely not to have benefited from screening. We believe that this information is important to put cancer survivor stories in their proper context.”

The entire study is online here.

In a commentary that accompanies the study (but is behind a pay wall), two researchers from the Minneapolis VA Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research and the University of Minnesota endorse the counterintuitive findings. They acknowledge that when cancers are discovered at an advanced stage, cure is a long shot. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that finding a cancer at the earliest stage is always better.

“Patients and their clinicians assume that outcomes would be worse if the condition were left undiagnosed and untreated, and survival is then attributed to these interventions,” write Dr. Timothy J. Wilt and Melissa R. Partin. “However, longer survival times are poor predictors of the effectiveness of treatment and more accurately reflect changing diagnostic methods.”

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