Mammogram Mess offers a way to think about the conclusions of a large study suggesting that mammography does not save lives, as reported in the NYTimes article, Vast Study Casts Doubts on Value of Mammograms?
Reader Gillian commented, "But haven't they also told us that [breast] self-exam [BSE] is not useful/important?"
According to NYTimes Well columnist Roni Caryn Rabin, the idea that BSE is not useful may be changing. She explains in A Fresh Case for Breast Self-Exam:
"Buried in the news was a nugget of hope: The women who did not receive regular mammograms were instead monitored with physical breast exams that proved effective...as or better than regular mammograms at locating the serious cancers that needed treatment."
The key caveat was: "'If it was performed well and was accompanied by the teaching of breast self-exam,” said Dr. Anthony B. Miller of the University of Toronto, the study’s lead author.'"
We think of an ideal screening test as having no false negatives or false positives, meaning the test doesn't miss any cancers (false negatives) or suggest cancer exists where, in fact, it doesn't (false positive)."
It's not so simple. A test can be a true positive (the test shows cancer that is confirmed on biopsy). But that may lead to a response that leads to problems. Let me stop here and use my next post to explain what I mean before proceeding with the discussion about BSE.