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Fact check: The benefits of mammography far outweigh the risks

Fact check: The benefits of mammography far outweigh the risks
Fact check: The benefits of mammography far outweigh the risks

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Mammography is therefore the most important test for early detection. Despite this, false reports continue to circulate, including about radiation exposure. A post was recently shared on a social network claiming that Switzerland and parts of other countries have even banned mammography.

assessment

Mammography is not prohibited in Switzerland, nor in the other countries mentioned – Canada, Scotland, Italy or Australia. In some cantons, women over 50 are actively invited to have a mammogram every two years; participation is voluntary. According to experts, the radiation exposure from the examination is low, and the benefits outweigh the risks.

examination

For women over 50, mammography, a special X-ray examination of the breast, is the most important test for the early detection of breast cancer. Early detection increases the chances of recovery and enables gentler treatment, writes the Swiss association “Swiss Cancer Screening”. In Austria, participation in the breast cancer early detection program is recommended for women between the ages of 45 and 74, and even earlier if there is a family history of the disease.

The post claims that mammography screenings have also been suspended in parts of Canada, Italy, Scotland and Australia. This is false, as all four countries mentioned have a screening program for women aged 50 and over (in Italy, in some regions, from 45). Women between the ages of 40 and 50 can also take part, but are not actively invited to do so.

Low radiation exposure

The social media posts, which all spread the same statements and figures, also say that mammography exposes the breast to large amounts of radioactive radiation. However, radiation from X-rays cannot be radioactive. The radiation exposure itself from a modern mammography is around 0.2 to 0.3 millisieverts (mSv), which, according to Austria’s public health portal, is roughly comparable to a week-long stay in the mountains.

According to the University of Greifswald, a single mammogram increases the risk of developing breast cancer by 0.002 percent. Without additional risk factors (such as a family history), the risk of every woman developing breast cancer in her lifetime is 12 percent; with regular mammograms (every one and a half to two years), this risk increases to 0.04 percent by the age of 80, i.e. from 12 to 12.04 percent.

According to the Canadian health authority, a healthy body can repair cells that may have been damaged by radiation from an X-ray examination. The benefit of early diagnosis and appropriate treatment far outweighs the risk of the low radiation dose from a mammogram, the experts conclude.

Few false positive results

Austrian information pages on the breast cancer screening program also emphasize its benefits (“Mammography can save lives”), but also point out the disadvantages of the test, such as false-positive results. Social media postings say that 50 to 60 percent of positive results are false.

In Austria, the false-positive or false-negative rate of individual radiology institutes is not currently recorded. According to a media report, there are between five and eight false-positive results for every 100 mammograms in this country.

The origin of the postings probably goes back to a ten-year-old recommendation from the “Swiss Medical Board”, a non-governmental institution that has since ceased its activities. In 2014, the experts had criticized systematic mammography screening in Switzerland, among other things due to a poor cost-benefit ratio.

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