According to a recent article in the British Journal of Cancer, further evidence indicates that regular screening mammography does reduce mortality due to breast cancer in women.
Breast cancer claims the lives of approximately 40,000 women and is diagnosed in over 200,000 women annually in the United States alone. When diagnosed early, prior to the spread of cancer, breast cancer has a high cure rate. However, once the cancer has spread to distant and/or several sites in the body (advanced stage), cure rates are reduced dramatically. Therefore, regular screening for breast cancer to detect the disease in its earliest stages is imperative to ensure optimal chances for a cure.
This past couples of years has seen a major controversy over the benefit of screening mammograms. Some critics believe that there is no proven survival benefit from screening mammography and that screening leads to over-diagnosis and an increased number of biopsies and surgeries, while other physicians are proponents of mammography and agree that the screening detects earlier cancers and improves survival. Clinical studies have been ongoing in order to determine the definite risks and benefits of screening mammography. Results from studies have recently been published indicating that screening mammography does indeed reduce the rate of mortality caused by breast cancer.
Researchers from England recently conducted another clinical study to further evaluate the effects of screening mammography on mortality caused by breast cancer. In this study, the researchers compared two districts in England, the district of Wigan and the district of Manchester. Over 5,000 women 54 years or younger in each district were invited to participate in regular screening mammography. In the district of Wigan, nearly 79% of women had participated, while in the district of Manchester, only 51% of women had participated in several rounds of the screening program. Long-term data indicated that significantly more women in the district of Wigan had been diagnosed with breast cancer; however, significantly more women in the district of Manchester had been diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer. Long-term survival was greater in the group of women from the district of Wigan, compared to those from the district of Manchester (2.46 versus 4.31 deaths per 10,000 person years).
The researchers concluded that these results provide further evidence clearly indicating that regular screening mammography provides an earlier diagnosis of breast cancer and reduces mortality in women 54 years or younger. All women should speak with their healthcare provider about scheduling regular mammograms and the risks and benefits of routine screening mammography.
Reference: Threlfall A, Collins S, Woodman C. Impact of NHL breast screening on advanced disease and mortality from breast cancer in the North West of England.
British Journal of Cancer. 2003;89:77-80.