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Poll: What Are Your Thoughts on the Debate Over Routine Mammograms?

Should women over age 40 should be screened for breast cancer using annual mammograms. Or should they wait until after age 50 and be more frugal with testing?

The PBS NewsHour aired a report on Tuesday about how a recent study again threw into question whether routine mammograms are an effective way to screen women age 40 and older for breast cancer. Now, we want to get your opinion.

Cast your vote in the poll above, and submit your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

For decades, the prescription for beating breast cancer started with a mammogram every year for women over 40. But a study published Nov. 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 1.3 million women were overdiagnosed in the last three decades.

The study cited an estimate that more than 50 percent of all new, small cancers in the last 30 years were found using mammograms. But the testing tool also picks up cancers that would never harm many women — leading to unnecessary anxiety, over-treatment and inflated medical costs, the study said.

In Tuesday’s NewsHour report, health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser explored why many in the medical community — including the influential U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — believe the study is further proof that most women shouldn’t receive mammograms until after their 50th birthday, and then only every other year. The American Cancer Society and other prominent groups continue to say annual mammograms over the age of 40 are crucial.

Watch her full report:

Online, we asked two influential doctors to weigh in:

Dr. Archie Bleyer, co-author of the New England Journal of Medicine study, said in his opinion piece that 1.5 million additional women have been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in the last 30 years — a terrific finding if it meant that 1.5 fewer women had been diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. “We could then conclude that screening had indeed advanced the time of diagnosis and provided the opportunity of fewer deaths and/or less therapy for 1.5 million women,” he wrote.

“Instead and disappointingly, we found that there were only about 140,000 fewer women with a diagnosis of late-stage breast cancer. The discrepancy between 1,500,000 and 140,000 meant that more than 1.3 million women were told they had early-stage cancer and underwent surgery or surgery with radiation, years of hormone therapy, and in some, chemotherapy for a ‘cancer’ that if they had done nothing was never going affect them.”

Expressing the other side was Dr. Sandra Swain, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. She wrote in this blog that mammograms may lead to overdiagnosis, but they’re currently the most effective tool available to screen for breast cancer.

“When you diagnose a breast cancer at an earlier stage, you are able to give the patient less treatment … less women may need less surgery or systemic therapy such as chemotherapy. So this is really a great benefit for patients to have an earlier diagnosis,” she wrote.

In addition, we heard from Dr. Barnett Kramer, director of the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Prevention. He explained the costs and benefits of mammography that he said every woman should consider before making her own decision.

Related Resource: Infographic: Are Mammograms Effective?

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