Many news stories on last week’s study on digital mammography in the New England Journal of Medicine were shallow and incomplete.
Many ran with a single theme that digital mammograms are 15% to 28% more effective than traditional film mammograms in the detection of breast tumors in women younger than age 50, women with dense breast tissue and pre- or peri-menopausal women.
But I didn’t see any stories questioning how many cases of DCIS or ductal carcinoma in situ were picked up by digital mammograms. This pre-cancerous, pre-malignant “non-invasive” condition leaves women and their doctors in a quandary about treatment options since it’s not known how many stay non-invasive and how many go on to become invasive. If the new technology picks up more of these cases, it may be a double-edged sword.
Few stories carried any skepticism such as that reported in the Washington Post by a spokesperson for the National Breast Cancer Coalition: “”I think it is very misleading to tell people that digital mammography is a better alternative. We don’t know that yet. Catching more cancers doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to avoid more deaths from breast cancer”