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1 in 2 will have false alarm from yearly mammogram


3 Star

1 in 2 will have false alarm from yearly mammogram

Our Review Summary

This article emphasizes the value of using the study results to inform an individual woman’s decision regarding when to begin screening mammography & whether screening should be done annually or biannually.

Our first two reviewers were a researcher who specializes in health decisions and a breast cancer survivor trained in evidence by the Natiional Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD.


Why This Matters

The critical question is whether you can do less frequent screening, subject women to fewer harms and get similar results in terms of detection of
“early stage” cancer. This study’s data seems to suggest that answer is yes.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

While the article does mention the anxiety a patient experiences because of a recall mammogram, it fails to also mention other psychological, physical, & financial costs incurred because of false-positive mammograms & false-positive biopsy recommendations.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


By including several relevant quotes from the study’s Principal Investigator, Rebecca Hubbard, Ph.D, this article focuses its readers on using the information from the study to make an informed decision regarding individual screening.

Because so many women fear receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, especially a late stage diagnosis,  the writer should not have simply stated “…it (biennial screening) could result in catching cancers at a later stage…”   The study makes it clear that the incidence of later stage diagnosis was statistically insignificant.  The writer should have provided that crucial information or should have entirely omitted the brief reference to late stage diagnosis.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

The anxiety caused by a recall mammogram is mentioned several times but the article should also have noted the inconvenience of going back for a recall mammogram as well as the pain & scarring of a biopsy.  The additional cost to the patient of a recall mammogram & a biopsy should also have been included in the article.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

Like the other stories we reviewed, this piece fails to include several important facts about the study.  1)  This is a prospective cohort study of women screened between 1994-2006.  2)  Most of the mammograms were film not digital.  3)  Few women underwent screening for the entire 10-year period.  4)  Recall rates are influenced by the skill of the radiologist reading the mammograms.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


There is no disease-mongering.

But the statistics in the send-off final paragraph – while accurate – are not particularly relevant to the focus of this story.  Our reviewers felt this threw the balance of the story out of whack – like loading the dice in favor of annual screening.  if, instead, they reported the number of women getting annual mammograms in the US and the number diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the US then that might have been a little more balanced and relevant. Prior to that paragraph, the story maintained a focus on using these findings to inform one’s decision.

Instead the story could have used that last paragraph to develop the idea of shared decision making for screening.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

There are no quotes from or references to any independent sources.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


In relatively few words, this article does a good job of emphasizing the value of the results of the study that looked at the cumulative probability of false-positive recall or biopsy recommendations after 10 years of screening mammography.  The quotes from Dr. Hubbard, the study’s Principal Investigator, emphasize the higher probability of false-positives with annual versus biannual screening.  Dr. Hubbard urges doctors & women to use these findings to help women make informed decisions regarding their individual screening.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Applicable

Screening mammography is widely available throughout the United States.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Not Applicable

This article is not about a new procedure.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


Because the article refers to a telephone interview with the study’s principal investigator and includes several quotes from Dr. Hubbard, it is clear that the writer did not rely solely on a news release.

Total Score: 4 of 8 Satisfactory


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