The benefits of mammography almost always outweigh the risks. In part two of our “Debunking Mammography Misinformation” series, the radiologists weigh in.
Q: My doctor said I have dense breasts, will this increase my risk of getting breast cancer?
A: Having dense breasts may increase your risk for breast cancer. Dense breasts also make it harder to spot cancer on mammograms. Dense tissue appears white on mammograms, but so do cancers and other lumps. This means that mammography results may be less accurate in women with dense breasts. Debra Monticello, MD Radiologist
Q: I’ve heard that screening mammography contributes to overdiagnosis. What does that mean?
A: It’s when a test, such as a screening mammogram, finds a cancer that would not kill you before something else does. Only a few percent of cancers would fit this description, and medical science cannot yet tell which cancers will advance to kill and which won’t. The only way to know is to not treat the cancer and see what happens. Invasive breast cancers don’t go away or get smaller if left untreated. It’s only a matter of time before these cancers kill. –Nicole Saphier, MD Radiologist
Verdict: This year, more than 250,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, and at least 40,000 women will die from the disease. If not for life-saving mammography, tens of thousands more women would die. The relatively small risks associated with mammograms don’t even come close to outweighing the benefits. Mammograms continue to save lives.
*Adapted from the video “Balancing Mammography Benefit vs. Risk”, on the ACR’s Mammography Saves Lives YouTube playlist.