The relentless campaign to convince every American woman of her imminent risk of fatal breast cancer doesn’t measure up to any calm review of the numbers on who dies from what in the United States. And the value of regular mammograms for women is coming under increasingly skeptical scrutiny.
The latest skeptical report on breast cancer screening with mammograms comes this week in the “Well” column in the New York Times. According to the Times, of the 39 million women who undergo mammograms this year, somewhere between 4,000 and 18,000 of those will be helped by getting earlier diagnosis of a cancer that otherwise might have gotten out of control.
Last year at this time in this blog, we reviewed the numbers comparing breast cancer risk to those of other big killers. We showed that the usual statistic that most Americans have heard, that one in eight women will get or die from breast cancer, is wildly wrong. The numbers still are accurate today.
The point is not to pooh-pooh breast cancer. It’s a terrible disease, and nobody should die from it. But nobody should be unduly scared of it either, when the odds are that many other ailments will kill you first.
Should you get a regular mammogram? It’s a personal decision depending on your own family history and your own risk tolerance. Just don’t let anyone tell you that you’re being suicidal if you decide to skip it.