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Medical board calls for fewer mammograms

Uncomfortable? Yes. Unnecessary? Depends who you ask. Keystone

Systematic mammography screening has more cons than pros, according to the Swiss Medical Board (SMB). In a report published on Sunday, the board said that regular screening only saves one or two women out of 1,000.

“The mortality rate from breast cancer can be reduced slightly by means of the screening… (but) this desirable effect is offset by the undesirable effects. Specifically, with about 100 of 1,000 women with screening, erroneous results are produced,” said the board in a statement.

In addition to causing psychological stress, these inaccurate readings mean additional examinations as well as potentially unnecessary treatment. The board added: “The costs-effectiveness ratio is very unfavourable.”

The SMB report was based on study data from 1963-1991, which compared the fates of 1,000 women who underwent regular screening with 1,000 who did not.

Based on its findings, the SMB recommended that a time limit be set on existing systematic mammography screening programs. It also discouraged the creation of new programs.

The board also called for thorough medical evaluations prior to any mammography screenings, plus more quality control of mammography services.

Swiss Cancer League “astonished”

In response to the SMB’s recommendations, the Swiss Cancer League announced that it was “astonished”.

“Like numerous national and international experts and organisations (WHO, EU), the Cancer League believes that the pros outweigh the cons,” said the group in a statement on Sunday. It criticised the board for its “controversial methodology” and “lack of new data”.

The league said it could see no reason to change the current system.

“The report contradicts the national strategy against cancer, which was adopted at the federal and cantonal levels in June 2013. It calls for the widespread introduction of quality-controlled mammography screening,” the league pointed out.

In many parts of Switzerland today, women between 50 and 70 are encouraged to have a mammogram every two years. Some cantons already have formal screening programs to support this practice.

According to the SMB, some 5,400 women in Switzerland are diagnosed with breast cancer every year; another 1,400 die of it each year.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR