Screening Mammography in Younger Women: No Slam Dunk

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.

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