Numbers are tough, and when numbers meet breast cancer they don’t get any easier. A recent study in JAMA was nicely summarized in the Wall Street Journal.
I created the following charts to summarize the main outcomes for 10,000 women in their 40s. Each ball represents a woman. The panel on the left shows the outcomes for women skipping screening; the one on the right shows the outcomes for those undergoing annual screening. The legend explains what each of the three colors represents.
The main takeaways:
- Most women won’t see any benefit, but will undergo the hassles and worries associated with screening
- A few (5) of the 10,000 women will be spared death from breast cancer
- A few dozen (36) will be subjected to unnecessary treatment for breast cancer
To my eye, this is no slam dunk, and it explains why many are calling for a more informed and balanced discussion between clinicians and patients about when to start mammograms for breast cancer screening.