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Misconceptions about efficacy of mammography screening: a public health dilemma
  1. E Chamota,
  2. T V Pernegera,b
  1. aInstitute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Geneva, Switzerland, bQuality of Care Unit, Geneva University Hospitals
  1. Dr Chamot, Institut de Médecine Sociale et Préventive, Centre Médical Universitaire, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland (chamot{at}


OBJECTIVE This study assessed accuracy of women's opinions about reduction in mortality from breast cancer attributable to mammography screening.

DESIGN Cross sectional survey.

SETTING General population of Geneva, Switzerland.

PARTICIPANTS 895 randomly selected women aged 40 to 80 years, free of breast cancer.

RESULTS Women estimated the proportion of deaths from breast cancer that regular mammography screening prevents in women over age 50. Only 19.3% of the respondents assessed screening efficacy realistically (that is, reduction by about one fourth); 52.0% overestimated efficacy; 26.0% “didn't know”, and 2.6% stated that screening prevents no death. Women who believed mammography screening to be effective had more positive attitudes toward screening (higher scores of pros and lower scores of cons) and were more likely to plan to have a mammogram (both p<0.001). Lack of opinion about the benefit of mammography screening was more common among women who had not consulted a gynaecologist recently (p=0.02) nor had had a mammogram during the past two years (p=0.009), who had no opinion about their risk of breast cancer (p<0.001), and who were 70 to 80 years old (p=0.04). Compared with women who provided realistic estimates of screening efficacy, those who overestimated efficacy believed to be at higher risk of breast cancer than other women (p=0.04) and were more likely to be Swiss nationals (p=0.001).

CONCLUSIONS Most women overestimated and many were uninformed about the efficacy of mammography screening. Therefore, few women were able to take truly informed decisions about screening mammography.

  • mammography screening
  • patient information
  • decision making

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  • Funding: Geneva Cancer League, Geneva, Switzerland.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.