More American women got mammograms after Obamacare cut out-of-pocket expenses for preventative health-care, according to a study published in Cancer.
That’s good news. Mammograms help women survive breast cancer by diagnosing fast-growing tumors in their earliest stages — but they are not perfect.
One in three women with breast cancer detected by a mammogram is treated unnecessarily because the tumor was so slow-growing that it was essentially harmless, according to a Danish study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The study suggests that mammograms might be leading to unnecessarily aggressive treatment for women with non-serious tumors, according to Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society.
Another problem is that only 1 in 8 women who get mammograms know that having dense breasts increases their risk of cancer and makes a tumor harder to find, according to a study by the University of Virginia.
Dense breast tissue appears white on a mammogram, and so does breast cancer. It can be hard to tell the difference.
In addition to the risk of misdiagnosis, dense breasts are 4-6 times more likely to develop tumors. Very few women know this, although 27 states require mammogram doctors to tell women about their breast density.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 12.4% of women born in the U.S. today will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives.
The organization used to recommend yearly mammograms for women over age 40, but recently relaxed guidelines to recommend yearly mammograms starting at age 45, and every other year after age 55.