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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Mammograms Up Odds of Saving Breast

When It's Cancer, Screened Women Have More Choices

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Daniel J. DeNoon

Oct. 7, 2002 -- When the doctor says, "It's cancer," women who have regular mammograms are more likely to be offered breast-conserving surgery. The downside: they may also have more unnecessary surgeries.

The finding comes from a report at today's meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, ASTRO for short. Gary M. Freedman, MD, and colleagues at Philadelphia's Fox Chase Cancer center looked at nearly 1,600 women who found out they had breast cancer. All came to the Fox Chase "second opinion" clinic for evaluation of tumor size, tumor spread, and recommendations for treatment.

The women fell into three groups. The first group of 192 women had never had a mammogram before their tumor was found. A third of these women found out about their tumors when they finally got a mammogram. The second group of 695 women had previous mammograms but did not get them every year. The third group of 703 women had mammograms at least once a year.

The women who had the most frequent mammograms tended to have smaller tumors than women with less frequent mammograms. Taken together, the two groups of women who got mammograms had smaller tumors and less cancer spread to the lymph nodes than women who did not get mammograms.

Perhaps the most striking finding is that 61% of the women who got mammograms were offered breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) while only 29% needed full breast removal (mastectomy). In women with no mammograms, 41% were eligible for lumpectomy and another 41% needed mastectomy.

"I conclude there were benefits for screening mammography," Freedman tells WebMD. "Having yearly or more frequent screening had an edge in terms of having the lowest risk of an invasive tumor and in terms of small tumor size. We felt there was an edge to yearly screening. It was better than less frequent screening."

That's not the only possible interpretation of the data. Steven Goodman, MD, PhD, MHS, associate professor of biostatistics at Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, points out that patients who had frequent mammography were much more likely to have a diagnosis of DCIS -- ductal carcinoma in situ. Not all DCIS will progress to invasive breast cancer within a woman's lifetime.

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