Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Are Benefits of Annual Mammograms Overstated?

Analysis of 50 years of clinical data adds to controversy over who should be screened, how often


"We think mammography has a benefit," Keating said, "but it's smaller than many people believe. And the risk of overdiagnosis, in particular, has not received a lot of attention."

Older women, who have a higher rate of breast cancer, see more benefits from screening, the review found: For those in their 60s, mammograms reduce the risk of breast cancer death by one-third.

One cancer expert said the estimates sound about right.

"Mammography does appear to save lives, but it's not as effective as people have thought," said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

Unlike the USPSTF, the American Cancer Society still suggests that women start yearly mammograms at age 40.

But, Brawley said, "there's a second line to the recommendation that doesn't get quoted in the media."

The "second line" says doctors should also tell women about the limitations and potential harms of screening, so they can make an informed decision.

"I've long been worried that we're overselling the benefits of mammography," Brawley said. He stressed, though, that "even though the benefit is less than promised, there's still a benefit."

Brawley also noted that 20 years ago, mammography might have had a bigger impact. Breast cancer treatment has improved so much that earlier detection through screening may not make as much of a difference as it did two decades ago, he explained.

Meanwhile, the American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging issued a joint statement Tuesday that questioned the validity of some of the data that was used in the Harvard review, and both groups reiterated their support of the value of annual mammograms for women aged 40 and older.

And the president and CEO of Susan G. Komen had this to say about the latest finding:

"We know mammography's shortcomings. We're very concerned about the potential for overdiagnosis and overtreatment," Judith Salerno said in a statement issued Tuesday. "But it's the most widely available test that we have for now.

"UItimately, we need more accurate screening tools. Komen is investing in research to develop those," Salerno added. "But until those tools are widely available, our position is that a woman should have access to a mammogram if she and her doctor think she should have one."

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow