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Acad Radiol. 2015 Aug;22(8):949-60. doi: 10.1016/j.acra.2015.03.003. Epub 2015 Jun 19.

Screening mammography: update and review of publications since our report in the New England Journal of Medicine on the magnitude of the problem in the United States.

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Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Oregon. Electronic address:



After a half century of clinical trials, expansive observations, vigorous advocacy and debate, screening mammography could not be in a more controversial condition, especially the potential harm of overdiagnosis. Despite a simple rationale (catch the cancer early and either prevent death or at least decrease the amount of therapy needed for cure), the estimates to date of overdiagnosis rates are conflicting and the interpretations complex.


Since the author's 2012 publication in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), the peer-reviewed publications on overdiagnosis caused by screening mammography are reviewed and the NEJM analyses updated with three additional calendar years of results.


The recent peer-reviewed medical literature on screening mammography induced overdiagnosis of breast cancer has increased exponentially, nearly 10-fold in 10 years. The average estimate of overdiagnosis is about 30%, but the range extends from 0% to 70+%. An update of the NEJM report estimates that in the US, 78,000 women and 30%-31% of those diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40 years or older during 2011 were overdiagnosed.


Until we have better screening procedures that identify who really has cancer and needs to be treated, the risk of overdiagnosis relative to the benefit of screening merits more effective public and professional education. Radiologists, pathologists, and other professionals involved with screening mammography should recognize that the potential harm of overdiagnosis is downplayed or not discussed with the patient and family, despite agreement that the objective is informed choice.


Screening mammography; United States; literature review; overdiagnosis

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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