Benefits and Harms of Mammography Screening

Magnus Løberg; Mette Lise Lousdal; Michael Bretthauer; Mette Kalager


Breast Cancer Res. 2015;17(63) 

In This Article


Women should be correctly informed about the benefits and harms of mammography screening (Figures 1 and 2). A comprehensible way of communicating information on benefits and harms of mammography screening is presented in Figure 1: among 1,000 women who start screening at age 50 and are screened for 20 years, 2 to 3 will avoid dying from breast cancer and 200 women will have at least one false positive test, 30 will undergo a biopsy, 3 will be diagnosed with an interval cancer, and breast cancer will be overdiagnosed in 15.

In an era of limited resources for health care and preventive services, we need to scrutinize our efforts in screening and prevention. One of the overarching goals of screening is the reduction of incidence or mortality of disease. Currently, we do recommend some screening services (such as mammography), while others are debated or discouraged (such as prostate-specific antigen screening for prostate cancer or aspirin for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and premature death). However, as Figures 4 and 5 show, these differences in recommendations do often not reflect differences in effectiveness or harms between the different tests.[49,62]