New Study Finds Mammograms Might Be Useless

After decades of (good natured) but rather humiliating breast exams (often from a cold metal robot) it turns out that all that feather kerfluffing might have been in vain.

On Tuesday, The British Medical Journal published the largest study on mammograms ever undertaken — and the results are worthy of pause. Research conducted on over 90,000 subjects shows there may be no point in subjecting ourselves to these proverbially awkward procedures, as the numbers comparing death rates from breast cancer victims who had mammograms and those who did not were, in fact, the same.

While this news is undeniably groundbreaking and will better streamline our medical system and medicinal efforts, there is a also a huge emotional fallout. Countless women suffering from breast cancer may have been unfairly blame themselves for their current condition — perhaps none more common than failing to show up to their regular mammogram appointments. 

Not surprisingly, there are many within the field who already dispute the study’s claims, such as the American Cancer Society’s Chief of Cancer Control, Dr. Richard C. Wender, who pointed out that data begins to shift once women reach their forties and beyond. For the thousands who have agonized over the “what-ifs” when it comes to their mammogram history however, this news could open the door for re-examining the best approach to breast cancer treatment and prevention. 

Thermography, an infrared imaging of the body, has been an alternative suggestion for decades, yet it isn’t typically the first preference of most women — perhaps because it is less talked about and much more widely debated than the mammogram. The FDA’s is particularly hesitant, claiming there is  “no evidence” in support of thermography; their dubiousness certainly doesn’t help, and the resulting lack of standardization when it comes to the interpretation of the imaging has sometimes led to a devastatingly late diagnosis.

And let's not forget about the pharmaceutical industry. They have a sizable interest in breast cancer treatment, and even when progress is made, economics becomes inextricably intertwined with the timeline between drug discovery and drug accessibility to the public. 

Last week two Indian generic pharmaceutical companies were forced to end sales of their versions of Roche’s Herceptin, a hugely successful breast cancer treatment that was shown in clinical studies to extend the survival length of late-stage cancer victims by an average of five to six months. The drug hauled in over $6.4 billion dollars in global revenues for Roche in 2012, and when Indian competitors were poised to launch a biosimilar alternative for about a quarter of the price, the Swiss company immediately demanded the two companies — Biocon and American-based Mylan — prove to the court they had completed adequate testing to sufficiently meet industry standards.

We can’t help but wonder how legitimate Roche’s concerns are — and how many Indians battling breast cancer could potentially be affected.

 

Image: Wikimedia

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