Spring 2002
Ask the Nurse: Are Yearly Mammograms a Good Idea?

Sally Cascella, RN I've been reading many articles lately about a new breast cancer study. It seems to show that routine mammograms do not prevent women from dying of breast cancer, or from having mastectomies. Can you please clarify: Are yearly mammograms useful?

Sally Cascella, RN, Clinical Coordinator at The Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center at Bridgeport Hospital, responds:

Many women are confused by the recent headlines. In an attempt to provide accurate, consistent information to all of our patients, we looked to the Breast Center physicians for guidance. Under the direction of our Medical Director, Jerry Malefatto, MD, and our Assistant Medical Director, Glen Reznikoff, MD, and after consultation with numerous other Breast Center physicians, a position statement was created.

The information that I pass on to our patients offers sound advice. The study the question refers to was in the October 20, 2001 issue of the British medical journal The Lancet. This journal published a critique of seven earlier studies that were designed to see if mammography is effective in preventing breast cancer. The authors felt that five of the seven studies were poorly designed, so they excluded them from their analysis. Based only on the remaining two studies, the authors of the article concluded that mammography has not been proven to prevent women from dying of breast cancer, or to help them to avoid mastectomies.

In spite of this recent report, we at The Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center believe that overwhelming data from many well-designed and well-conducted clinical studies do support mammography.

A mammogram is a safe, low-dose x-ray of the breast. A high-quality mammogram is the most effective tool for detecting breast cancer early. Current mammogram machines allow us to see tumors too small to be visible using the techniques of 10-20 years ago. Detecting breast cancers while they are still small allows more treatment options. It could even mean saving your breast—or your life.

Between 1973 and 1998 the yearly number of new breast cancer cases rose about 46%. During that same time, the death rate from breast cancer has declined. Why have we found more breast cancers while a smaller percentage of women is dying from the disease? The most likely explanation is the recent advances in mammography.

We at The Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center agree that women should be aware of the new research, and of all their choices for breast cancer prevention and treatment. However, we continue to recommend routine screening mammograms to women over age forty. And it's worth noting that US Secretary of Health & Human Services Tommy G. Thompson recently came out with a similar opinion.

Any of our physicians will be happy to discuss at length these issues and any concerns you may have.

For a copy of the Center's position paper, or a brochure describing the services of The Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center, please call 203-384-3392 or 203-255-5300.