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Study: Mammograms Every Two Years vs. Annually

8:15 AM, Nov 17, 2009   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- A year-long study by independent leading cancer researchers have led to a conclusion that women with "average risk" for breast cancer may receive mammograms every other year instead of the annual exam.

The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, indicates biannual mammograms helps to maximize the benefits of preventative screening while lowering the harms such as getting false positives for women 50 to 74 years old.

"A woman may be told she has an abnormal mammogram. She may undergo further imaging or biopsies. She's found not to have breast cancer. That's a harm to women; it causes stress, and anxiety," says the leading author of the paper, Jeanne S. Mandelblatt, MD, MPH, Associate Director of Population Sciences at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The entire report is published in the November 17, 2009 Annals of Internal Medicine. A woman ranks "average risk" for breast cancer if she does not have family history,  genetic susceptibility, among other factors.

"Some women undergo unnecessary biopsies. And screening can find small tumors that may never have harmed the woman," Mandelblatt explains.

The biannual exam also models after the growth of the cancer:

"Breast cancer, in general, is a slow growing disease. So by screening every other year, we can still detect almost all cancers at an early, curable stage, says Mendelblatt.

Meanwhile, aggressive tumors that grow fast are not prevented or affected by yearly mammograms.

Still, Mendelblatt says women should speak to their healthcare providers to assess and understand specific breast cancer risk.

The study results represent a unanimous consensus of six independent research groups from various academic institutions.

Other authors include: Kathy Cronin and Eric Feuer of the National Cancer Institute; Donald Berry, Mark Munsell, Peter Ravdin and John Venier of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Harry J. de Koning, Gerrit Draisma and Nicolien van Ravesteyn of the Department of Public Health, Rotterdam, the Netherlands; Hui Huang of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Sandra Lee and Marvin Zelen are in the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard School of Public Health; Sylvia Plevritis, Bronislava Sigal and Stephanie Bailey of Stanford University; Clyde Schechter of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Michael Stoto of Georgetown University Medical Center; Natasha Stout of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

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Written by Elizabeth Jia
9NEWS NOW & WUSA9.com