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New Study Raises Questions About Mammography's Efficacy

Aired September 20, 2000 - 1:38 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there's new controversy over the screening procedures for breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Both diseases can be deadly, but they can also be treated if they are caught early. We begin with a new study about breast cancer and self-examinations versus mammograms.

Our medical correspondent Eileen O'Connor joins us from Washington with that -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, the study indicates that a competent physical exam for women over 50, generally post-menopause can be as effective in reducing the risk of cancer death as an annual screening that also uses mammography.

Now, the study was done in Canada and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. They studied 39,000 women split into two groups. One periodically received both mammograms and careful physical exams, and the other just the physical exams. They were also taught self-examination.

They were enrolled for 13 years. By the end of the study, the different screening techniques detected about the same amount of cancers, and cancer deaths among the group were also about equal in number.

Now some cancer experts point to other studies that contradict the findings of this one, and they question whether the quality of the mammography used was good enough -- Natalie.

ALLEN: With all of this study, what should women do?

O'CONNOR: Well, the American Cancer Society is still recommending that woman over the age of 40 get annual mammography examinations, and the American Medical Association has endorsed this recommendation.

Now, the National Cancer Institute recommends that women over 40 get a mammogram every one to two years -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And the study also revealed some other important facts, tell us about those.

O'CONNOR: Well, some people, while they might disagree with study, they do say that some of the information was useful.

Critics of mammograms say it shows that women, perhaps, should not be subjected to a test that uses ionized radiation -- which can cause cancer -- and women who, maybe, can't access the test or women who can't afford it should try to get the physical exams instead.

Others say mammography is still best for detecting small growths earlier, leading to a better chance for cure. They all agree what this means is that more money needs to be spent to find a better kind of test for breast cancer, and also the importance of learning how to and doing those self-exams -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Eileen O'Connor in Washington, thanks.

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