Health Buzz: Mammograms Offer 'Modest' Benefit, Study Says

New health law benefits: 4 ways to prepare for the changes; how your personality affects your health.


Mammograms May Not Save as Many Lives as Believed, Study Suggests

Mammograms cut breast cancer death rates—but only modestly, new research suggests. Routine mammograms account for about one third of the decline in breast cancer deaths since the 1980s, while increased cancer awareness and improved treatments likely play a greater role, according to a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers followed 40,000 Norwegian women ages 50 to 69 for more than two years, and compared death rates among women who were and were not screened. Mammography reduced breast cancer mortality by 2.4 deaths per 100,000 people, the Associated Press reports. The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for women 40 and older. Last year, however, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent advisory panel, said women only need a mammogram every two years, starting at age 50.

  • Are Digital Mammograms Better Than the Conventional Kind?
  • Routine Mammograms Before 50: Not Much Point
  • New Health Law Benefits: 4 Ways to Prepare for the Changes

    The first major provisions in the federal health reform law are about to take effect—President Obama plans to hail the 6-month anniversary of the legislation's passage by touting the new provisions as a "Patient's Bill of Rights." Starting today, new or renewed policies have to extend coverage for young adults up to age 26 who want to remain on their parents' policies; they also can't exclude children with preexisting conditions. If you get diagnosed with a serious illness, you can't be dropped from your plan, writes U.S. News's Deborah Kotz. Lifetime caps on coverage are also gone. What's more, preventive services like mammograms and cholesterol screenings are automatically covered and completely free. Some insurance companies say they'll stop selling policies just for children because they're worried parents will only buy a policy once a child becomes seriously ill.

    How should you prepare for these changes? Carrie McLean, consumer specialist with eHealthInsurance, a company that finds individual and family plans for consumers and gives them a way to apply online, recommends the following:

    First, check your mail. If you currently have insurance, you should be notified in writing about any coverage that will be changing once you renew your policy. Most open enrollment periods, which include renewals, start in November and close in January. Your yearly coverage limit will be automatically raised to $750,000 and will eventually rise to $1.2 million a year in 2014, and lifetime limits on coverage will be eliminated—good news to those with severe health conditions like heart failure or cancer. "If you already have a plan, you really shouldn't see major changes," says McLean. And you don't need to worry if your child is already enrolled in a child-only plan, she adds, since children already enrolled can't be dropped from coverage. [Read more: New Health Law Benefits: 4 Ways to Prepare for the Changes.]

    • Health Reform: 4 Changes to Expect at Your Doctor's Office
    • Health Reform: A Timeline
    • How Your Personality Affects Your Health

      Could your personality kill you—or might it make you live longer? Could it give you heart disease, or protect you from illness? Could it push you toward or away from doctor appointments? Personality traits play a distinct role in determining how healthy we are, psychologists say. "Everything is related to everything else. How stressed or angry you are, and how you interact with the world, is contingent in large part on your personality style," says Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. "And that is going to have an enormous impact on your health."

      Here's a look at common personality types and traits and how each can help or hurt your health (sometimes both):

      One of the aspects of the impatient, hard-charging Type A personality that is known to increase heart disease risk is hostility, U.S. News reports. Hostile people eat and smoke more and exercise less than other personality types, says Redford Williams, head of behavioral medicine at Duke University Medical Center and author of Anger Kills. They're likelier to be overweight in middle age and have higher cholesterol and blood pressure. Williams's past research suggests hostile people are also more likely to develop irregular heart rhythms, and to die before reaching their 50s. Most of these problems can be traced back to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as increased inflammation in the walls of the coronary arteries, which leads to a greater risk of heart attack. [Read more: How Your Personality Affects Your Health.]