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Earlier this year, one of the largest and longest studies of mammography to date — involving 90,000 women followed for 25 years — found that mammograms have no impact on breast cancer mortality.1
Over the course of the study, the death rate from breast cancer was virtually identical between those who received an annual mammogram and those who did not, while 22 percent of screen-detected invasive breast cancers were over-diagnosed, leading to unnecessary treatment. The researchers concluded “the data suggest that the value of mammography screening should be reassessed.”2
A Cochrane Collaboration review also found no evidence that mammography screening has an effect on overall mortality, which, taken together, seriously calls into question whether mammography screening really benefits women.3
Public health agencies, however, have been slow to update their recommendations. The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for average-risk women starting at the age of 40, while the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammograms every other year starting at age 50.
The conflicting recommendations send women mixed messages on whether screening is helpful or harmful, yet, earlier this year the Swiss Medical Board made a clear-cut recommendation: no more systematic mammography.
Why Did the Swiss Medical Board Do Away with Routine Mammograms?
After a year of reviewing the available evidence and its implications, the Swiss Medical Board, an independent health technology assessment initiative, noted they became “increasingly concerned” about what they were finding. The “evidence” simply did not back up the global consensus of other experts in the field suggesting that mammograms were safe and capable of saving lives.
On the contrary, mammography appeared to be preventing only one death for every 1,000 women screened, while causing harm to many more. Their thorough review left them no choice but to recommend that no new systematic mammography screening programs be introduced, and that a time limit should be placed on existing programs.