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The Limits of Detection

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Mammography is touted as a screening tool that saves women’s lives. A recent paper in the Archives of Internal Medicine put that claim to the test, noting that other outcomes are possible — that a woman’s breast cancer might have been treatable no matter when it was found or that she was diagnosed with a cancer that was not going to cause symptoms. Through their estimation, the researchers found that most women did not have their life saved by the screen. “The presumption often is that anyone who has had cancer detected has survived because of the test, but that’s not true,” researcher Gilbert Welch tells Tara Parker-Pope at The New York Times.

“Of all the women who have a screening test who have breast cancer detected, and eventually survive the cancer, the vast majority would have survived anyway,” adds Colin Begg from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “It only saved the lives of a very small fraction of them.”

The Scan

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