Nightly News   |  April 01, 2014

Study: Mammogram Benefits Oversold, Harms Downplayed

New research recommends that doctors focus on an individual’s risk for breast cancer when it comes to recommending mammography.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a team of researchers from harvard has compiled more than 50 years of data about the effectiveness of mammograms. with the apologies for the confusion, they say this may reignite. the benefits of the screening are overstated the harms are downplayed. tell that to many women whose lives have been saved and say they'd rather be safe than sorry.

>> reporter: america's conversation about breast cancer began in 1974 when president gerald ford maze an unprecedented and emotional a announcement.

>> i just returned from the hospital where i saw betty as she came from the operating room.

>> reporter: his wife had survived breast cancer and she changed everything, and became an outspoken advocate for early detection.

>> urge the women you care about to have regular mammograms.

>> since then, a lot of high protime women have gone public about their breast cancer . saying their survivor started with a mammogram. today's study analyzed 50 years of data and concluded the benefits of screening are often overstated and the harms downplayed.

>> for women who undergo mammograms every year, about 60% of them will have at least one false positive over a ten year period.

>> false positives can lead to additional images, anxiety and surgery. all a physical and economic drain. but still, so many say they'd rather have a false positive than miss a cancer. when a government task force changed the recommendations from mammography in 2009 it created tremendous controversy. the new guidelines said to start screening at age 50 rather than age 40. the advice has been largely ignored. today's study suggests doctors shift their thinking to focus on the woman's risk of breast cancer . women who have had a close relative with breast cancer are at greater risk, as are women who have never had children.

>> there isn't a single one size fits all answer. i think it depends on who you are, what your individual risk for breast cancer are and how you would feel about the harms of overdiagnosis and biopsies and false positives . this real take home message of one size does not fit all is imperative. it's very important for women to sit down with their physicians and say, what are my risk factors , what are the pros, what are the cons, because with any test, there's an upside and there's a down side, brian. and it's about time for women to recognize these are individual decisions.

>> as emotional as it always is confusing, nancy snyderman with the latest on this tonight. nancy, thanks.