November 19, 2009


COLUMBIA, Tenn. – Physicians and clinical staff at Maury Regional Medical Center (MRMC) are expressing deep concern over a recent government task force study on mammography that was released on November 16.

“We believe that the findings of this group can be misleading to younger women and are not consistent with what we see in our own patient population,” said Dr. Michael Sattasiri, a radiation oncologist in the Maury Regional Cancer Center.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded that:

  • most women in their 40s should not routinely get mammograms,
  • women 50-74 should get a mammogram every other year until they turn 75, after which the risks and benefits are unknown, and
  • breast self-exams are of no value.

“Our own historical figures would indicate that these recommendations are detrimental. From 1998 until 2008, Maury Regional diagnosed breast cancer in 234 women in our community between the ages of 40 to 50, meaning 18 percent of all breast cancers diagnosed at MRMC were among women in an age group that this study indicated does not need regular mammograms,” said Sattasiri.

Since the study was released, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has advised women to ignore the recommendations and highly regarded organizations such as the American Cancer Society, American College of Radiology, American Gynecological & Obstetrical Society, and the American Society of Breast Surgeons have disputed the findings.

Maury Regional Women’s Center Coordinator Dana Salters, who is a registered mammographer, believes that technology has greatly enhanced the ability to find cancers at earlier stages among women at younger ages.

“The government study was based on a combination of analog and digital mammography. While digital mammography was approved by the FDA in 2000, it was not until 2008 that approximately 50 percent of mammography facilities offered digital technology. Digital mammography is more successful in detecting micro-calcifications, thus detecting more stage zero cancers. Because this technology has been successful in detecting breast cancer earlier, the potential exists that the number of women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer between ages 40 to 50 could increase at MRMC,” said Salters.

According to Salters, digital mammography is especially useful in detecting cancer at earlier stages in women who have dense breast tissue. In a clinical trial by the American College of Radiology Imaging Network, it was determined that digital mammography detected significantly more cancers than film (analog) mammography—up to 28 percent more—in women age 50 and younger, premenopausal women, perimenopausal women, and women with dense breasts.

For those who might be concerned about X-ray exposure, Salters indicated that exposure is now less with digital mammography than with the older analog mammography, roughly the equivalent of 20 minutes in the sun.

“Our hope is that women will follow the American Cancer Society guidelines, which recommends an annual mammogram beginning at age 40, as well as conducting regular breast self-exams. Women with a family history of breast cancer should consult with their physician and may need to begin annual mammograms at an earlier age. Mammography remains the single most effective way to detect breast cancer in its earliest stages,” said Salters.