Dartmouth student’s mammography research reveals surprising results

by Madison Pauly

29 Oct 2011

 

Ear­lier this week, Brit­tney Frankel ’12 got a sur­pris­ing call from her pro­fes­sor and re­search men­tor, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch: His study about the ef­fi­cacy of mam­mog­ra­phy screen­ings, which Frankel co-au­thored, was about to be fea­tured in The New York Times.

“It was re­ally weird and un­ex­pected but also re­ally ex­cit­ing,” Frankel said. “It’s re­ally nice to get recog­ni­tion for some­thing I worked re­ally hard on and think is im­por­tant.”

The title of the re­search? “Like­li­hood That a Woman With Screen-De­tected Breast Can­cer Has Had Her ‘Life Saved’ by That Screen­ing” Pretty self-ex­plana­tory.

Pub­lished on Oct. 24, the study was im­me­di­ately picked up by the Times, the Daily Beast, and News­wise, among oth­ers.

Using na­tional data on women with breast can­cer, Welch and Frankel set out to in­ves­ti­gate the truth be­hind sur­vivor tes­ti­mo­ni­als that tout the idea that early screen­ing saves lives.

“We found that the largest pos­si­ble chance that a woman’s life has been saved is 25 per­cent, which I think is re­ally sur­pris­ing and counter-in­tu­itive to what med­ical cul­ture sug­gests,” Frankel said.

Other prob­a­bil­ity es­ti­mates from the study in­di­cate that mam­mog­ra­phy may only save lives in less than 10 per­cent of the cases de­tected.

Ac­cord­ing to Frankel, that num­ber is small be­cause there are three pos­si­ble sce­nar­ios for each case of breast can­cer: First, that early di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment ac­tu­ally did save the woman’s life. Sec­ond, that catch­ing the can­cer ear­lier or later would have had no ef­fect on treat­ment. And third, that the dis­ease would have gone into re­mis­sion any­way, mean­ing that the woman was over di­ag­nosed and sub­ject to po­ten­tially harm­ful treat­ment.

“I think mam­mog­ra­phy is every woman’s in­di­vid­ual choice,” Frankel said. “This study is by no means say­ing you shouldn’t get a mam­mo­gram, but that there are pros and cons to doing so and that you should know both … This is just sug­gest­ing that early di­ag­no­sis is good in some cases but not all and there are al­ter­na­tive sce­nar­ios.”

A gov­ern­ment major who is in­ter­ested in pub­lic health, Frankel said she first learned about pub­lic health and ev­i­dence-based care when she read Welch’s book “Should I Be Tested for Can­cer?” in her writ­ing 5 class fresh­man year. She got in­volved in his re­search in her ju­nior spring after tak­ing his pub­lic pol­icy course the pre­vi­ous year.

“This pro­ject helped me re­al­ize that I loved gov­ern­ment but I also wanted to study med­i­cine,” Frankel said. “I re­al­ized that this was where my in­ter­ests lay — in the im­por­tance of com­mu­ni­cat­ing med­ical in­for­ma­tion clearly within the med­ical com­mu­nity and also in order to have reg­u­lar peo­ple un­der­stand it.”




Tags: , , , ,

The Origin of Pong Revealed

Hear ye, hear ye! Ladies and gentlemen, guys and gals, beirut and pong lovers alike, it is my distinct honor to inform you that the Read more>>

The 12 Kinds of Blitzes You Get at Dartmouth

“What’s a blitz?” you might wonder. Is it a football maneuver? Is it a 2011 Jason Statham film? A sudden military attack? Yes. Yes to Read more>>

FoCo Joe: Phish Food Yogurt

I recently noticed that combining Greek yogurt and Nutella is trending among the men's swimming and diving team. It really is a beautiful dessert, so Read more>>

Top Ten: Yik Yak's

Need a place to anonymously complain about midterms, the weather or Cornell? Want to brag about how drunk you are or how much sex you’re Read more>>

Texts From Last Night: Homecoming Edition

Well, it’s happened. The big fall weekend has come and gone, the fire has been touched, the miles have been run. And the late night Read more>>

17 Hours at Dartmouth College

Portsmouth, England. Oct. 17, 1714, 8:00 p.m. My time machine is finally complete! Now I must travel 300 years into the future to discover a cure for Read more>>