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Mammograms save fewer lives than you think

You probably think mammograms save a lot more lives than they actually do.

Mammograms save, at most, one additional life for every 1,000 people screened, a recent review of the medical literature found. We tend to think they do a lot more: one survey of 50-year-old American women found them to think an additional 80 lives are saved for the same 1,000 screenings.

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New England Journal of Medicine

The chart comes from the Swiss Medical Board, which recently recommended that the country phase out mammography screening programs. Their recommendation caused an uproar, but the board still stands by it.

"It is easy to promote mammography screening if the majority of women believe that it prevents or reduces the risk of getting breast cancer," members of the board wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine. "We would be in favor of mammography screening if these beliefs were valid. Unfortunately, they are not, and we believe that women need to be told so."

The board's defense follows a 25-year follow-up to the original Canadian National Breast Screening Study that found mammograms do not reduce the fatality rate of breast cancer more than physical examination and other forms of care. And as The New York Times pointed out in its analysis of the study, the findings mean a lot of women are overdiagnosed for breast cancer and get unnecessary treatments as a result.