Effect of Screening Mammography on Breast-Cancer Mortality
In the United States, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death among women. For women between 50 and 70 years old, screening mammography has long been recommended has as a means to detect cancers as early as possible and thus begin treatment sooner.
As treatments have improved, however, there has been continued disagreement among experts over the relative value of mammograms. A 2010 study by Harvard School of Public Health researchers, “Effect of Screening Mammography on Breast-Cancer Mortality in Norway,” finds that mammography can help to reduce mortality rate from breast cancer, but the magnitude of reduction is more modest than previously predicted.
The data was based on more than 40,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer who took part in a screening program that began in 1996. The women were divided among four groups: The first lived in areas where mammograms were provided every two years and the second in areas where screening wasn’t available. The remainder of the study group consisted of two historical-comparison groups similar to first two groups.
The study’s findings include:
- In the screening group, the death rate was reduced by 7.2 deaths per 100,000 person-years.
- In the nonscreening group, the death rate declined by 4.8 deaths per 100,000 person-years.
- The reduction in mortality that could be attributed to screening alone was 2.4 deaths per 100,000 person-years, or about a third of the total reduction of 7.2 deaths.
Because mammography screening was only associated with a third of the reduction in mortality from breast cancer, the remaining two-thirds must come from factors other than the mammograms themselves. The researchers suggest that improved treatment and increased awareness of the disease as possible reasons for the reduction in mortality.
Tags: cancer, technology
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the Harvard School of Public Health study titled "Effect of Screening Mammography on Breast-Cancer Mortality in Norway."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
Read the study-related New York Times article titled "Mammogramsâ€™ Value in Cancer Fight at Issue."
- Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
- Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. (for example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties [e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members] and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?)
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.