Breast screening vastly reduces risk of cancer death

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  Last updated February 7, 2019 at 10:39 am

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Regular screening for breast cancer reduces the risk of death thanks to earlier detection, shows new study.


Credit: Thomas Andreas / iStock


Women who undertake regular breast screening checks have a 60 per cent lower risk of dying from breast cancer within 10 years of diagnosis, new research shows.


A study of 50,000 women by a team of international researchers, including UniSA cancer epidemiologist Dr Kerri Beckmann, provides conclusive evidence that women whose breast cancer is diagnosed because of regular mammograms, respond much better to treatment due to early detection.


The research, published in the journal Cancer, used international data to compare breast cancer outcomes of women enrolled in organised breast screening programs over the past 39 years with those who were not.


Researchers say that while all women with breast cancer have benefitted from advances in treatment, there is overwhelming evidence in favour of regular mammograms where mortality is concerned.


Dr Kerri Beckmann, a joint UniSA and King’s College London NHMRC Research Fellow, says the benefits of regular screening are also evident within 20 years of diagnosis, with a 47 per cent lower risk of dying from breast cancer.


Screening for breast cancer is free to women in Australia aged between 50 and 74 years, every two years.


The study involved 52,348 women aged 40-69 years in Sweden during 39 years of screening. All patients received stage-specific treatment according to the latest national guidelines, irrespective of how the breast cancer was detected.


“Our findings show that women who choose not to participate in screening experience a significantly higher rate of advanced breast cancers, a greater need for more extensive surgery, a much higher risk of upper body impairments and more extensive radiotherapy and chemotherapy,” Dr Beckmann says.


“For each breast cancer death prevented by screening, a woman is spared the terminal stages of this disease and gains an extra 16.5 years. It is time we focused on combining diagnosis and therapy instead of viewing them as independent, or worse, competing interests.”


Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australia, with an estimated 18,000 women and 148 men diagnosed in 2018. While survival rates have improved markedly in the past decade with 91 per cent of patients surviving at least five years, breast cancer still accounts for around 6.5 per cent of all deaths from cancer.


Related


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Breast cancer eliminated using patient’s own T cells


Cancer risk increase in older people may be linked to an ageing immune system




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