Critics of frequent mammograms have generally focused on the relatively few lives saved per thousands of screenings.
According to a 2009 analysis published in the Cochrane Collection, an international health care network, one in 2,000 women will have her life prolonged by 10 years because of a mammogram, but another 10 healthy women will undergo unnecessary breast cancer treatment, and 200 women will endure significant psychological stress because of a false positive result -- they'll be erroneously told they have breast cancer when they don't.
The researchers who studied the Swedish women challenge such findings, suggesting that it takes nearly half as many mammograms to save a life, perhaps fewer if mammograms were given continually throughout middle and old age -- a rate of prevention that study leader Duffy and other breast cancer experts argue makes screenings worth the risk of possible adverse effects from radiation and false positives.
For every 1,000 to 1,500 mammograms given in this study, one breast cancer death was prevented, and if the initial screening period had lasted 10 years instead of seven, only 300 screenings would have been needed to save one life, the researchers reported.
And this was found in a population that received mammograms half as frequently as the American Cancer Society currently recommends for women in the U.S. If the Swedish women had been screened every year instead, there would have been a more "dramatic" reduction in the number of breast cancer deaths, says Dr. Peter Jokich, head of the mammography Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Overall, breast cancer experts believe this study out of Sweden supports the message they've been sending all along: Regular mammograms save lives. Period.