National Breast Cancer Coalition

Myth #2: Mammograms can only help and not harm you

FALSE. What's the risk? False positive results may lead to unnecessary, intrusive surgical interventions, while false negative results will not find cancerous tumors.

This myth is about screening mammography programs—that's mammograms for healthy women who do not have any symptoms. There also are diagnostic mammograms—those that are given when there is a problem. More than 80 percent of women who receive suspicious results from a screening mammogram do not have breast cancer.

The American Cancer Society recommends annual screening mammograms, those performed without symptoms present, starting at age 40. But evidence shows that in the United States, it has been estimated that a woman's cumulative risk for a false-positive result after ten mammograms is almost 50 percent; the risk of undergoing an unnecessary biopsy is almost 20 percent. In addition, women who are screened with mammography often have more aggressive and unneeded treatments. It is estimated that mammography screening has increased the number of mastectomies by 20 percent and the number of mastectomies and lumpectomies combined by 30 percent.

Women are regularly told that screening mammograms save lives. Evidence of actual mortality reduction is, in fact, conflicting and continues to be questioned by scientists, policy makers and members of the public. Since evidence does not currently significantly support, nor disprove the effectiveness of this test, receiving a screening mammogram should be a personal choice, not a medical mandate.