Would you like a little chocolate fondue with your mammogram? As more controversial research questions the effectiveness of the annual screening, US mammogram clinics are throwing parties to woo women back in.

Clinics throughout the US are hosting "mammogram parties" complete with sugary treats, beauty treatments, and special prizes, including the potential to win weekend spa packages. For example, Hendersonville Medical Center, a hospital clinic in Nashville, Tennessee, offers group parties where women lounge in robes while enjoying pampering massages. "It's a spa-like atmosphere with less anxiety, complete with music and aromatherapy," said Kim Sutton, imaging director at the hospital in an interview with the Nashville Examiner on October 7.

But media reports on the trend have sparked a vigorous debate about whether or not these promotions downplay the seriousness of the screening. "Simply inviting women to 'mammogram parties' could send the wrong message," said Lynne Hildreth, department administrator of women's oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, in an interview with The Chicago Tribune. "Mammograms are a medical test, and to treat it like a haircut overlooks that there are very real risks."

"I fail to see what this has to do with creating a positive, pampered atmosphere to what could be a prelude to extremely bad news," counters health blogger Michelle Peterson (michellepetersen76.wordpress.com). "According to Cancer Research UK in 2008 one-third of all women in the UK were ignoring breast screening invitations," she says, adding that these incentives could draw women back into the screening room.

Mammogram promotions come at a time when hot debate about the effectiveness of routine breast screening is on the rise. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine September 23, mammograms were shown to have only a "modest" impact on reducing breast cancer deaths. The research found that a Norwegian screening program resulted in a 10 percent reduction in breast cancer mortality among women between 50 and 69 years - a figure that officials describe as "disappointingly small," and below the 15 to 23 percent reduction estimated for many years by US public health officials.

To learn more about mammogram screening: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Detection/mammograms

To read the latest study: http://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa1000727