The latest breast cancer study (thanks to BMJ for making this Open Access) is causing real waves of consternation.It showed no differences in mortality rates between women who received annual mammograms and those who simply used personal breast examinations.
How can this be when we know that survival rates go up with the use of mammograms? Here is an excellent video explaining the difference;
I’m going to write more about this latest study but the upshot is that following 90,000 women over a 25 year period, half getting annual mammograms and half using self-examination, found no significant difference in the mortality rates of either group.
But they did find a large difference in the overdiagnosis of cancer in the mammography group. Almost 22% of the detected invasive cancers in the mammography arm were actually not deadly.
Not what anyone wanted to hear and very depressing. But it does support what recent research has seen – that breast cancer is vey complex, that it does not seem to be one disease and that we need better diagnostic tools.
This is why we do studies like this – to make certain we understand complex systems. Instead of denying the results because they make us uncomfortable, we need to understand them and gain better insights into complexity.
Because then we have a chance to really cure the disease, with the best outcomes for everyone.