Drawbacks of widespread breast cancer screening may outweigh its ability to save lives
Philip Strax was just 38 years old when his wife Bertha died from breast cancer. He was, a friend said later, powerfully in love with her, and her death was a blow from which he never fully recovered. He resolved to spend the rest of his life improving the early detection of breast cancer, to keep other women from dying as she had.
That was in 1947, when X-rays, then the primary means of peering into the body’s interior, were suitable only for viewing bones. Scans of soft tissues like the breast produced smeary images of little value. Sixteen years passed before technology had matured enough to justify a test run for cancer detection. In 1963, Strax jumped in with a clinical trial at the Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York, recruiting more than 60,000 volunteers. The women were randomly sorted to receive a mammogram or be part of a comparison group of simple observation. Even before the results were known, Strax was convinced of the technology’s effectiveness