The framing of this story was odd and troubling. Rather than build in drama (“latest volley…startled the world”), journalists would be better off giving the data and getting out of the way with flowery phrases.
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.
The article fails to provide any information about the psychological & financial costs that result from false-positive mammography recalls & false-positive recommendations for biopsy.
This article focused on the significant reduction in false-positive mammograms among women who are screened for breast cancer every two years rather than every year.
Rather than stating that “more than half who received annual mammograms were called back at least once because of a false-positive,” it would help readers to know that the percentage was actually 61.3%.
And it was misleading in the lead sentence to say “but the trade-off is a slightly higher risk of being diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer…” while qualifying that two lines later – “But the increase in breast cancer diagnoses wasn’t statistically significant.”
This piece briefly noted the anxiety caused by recall mammography but failed to point out that recall mammography may also cause inconvenience & that biopsies cause pain & scarring. The article should also have mentioned the financial costs of recall mammograms & of biopsies.
The competing WebMD piece did mention anxiety, inconvenience, pain & scarring.
The article should have stated that few women underwent screening for the entire 10-year period and that the recall rates are influenced by the skill of the radiologists who read the mammograms.
There is no disease-mongering.
The piece includes a relevant quote about the benefits of the study from Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
The article did remain focused on the key information regarding the reduction in false-positive recall mammograms & recommendations for biopsy that result from undergoing screening mammography biennally rather than annually.
Because readers are appropriately concerned about any possible effect less frequent screening may have on stage at diagnosis, this article should have included the crucial information that the slightly higher risk of being diagnosed with a later stage breast cancer was statistically insignificant. That important fact was not addressed until two paragraphs after mentioning the higher risk. Readers who read only the first paragraph or who skim an article may have easily missed the clarifying information about statistical significance in the third paragraph.
Screening mammography is widely available throughout the United States.
This is not a new procedure.
This article includes a quote from the Principal Investigator, Rebecca Hubbard, Ph.D & from a breast surgeon. It clearly does not rely solely on a press release.