The longest-running breast cancer screening study ever conducted has
shown that regular mammograms prevent deaths from breast cancer, and the
number of lives saved increases over time, according to an
international research team.
The study involved
130,000 women in two communities in Sweden. It showed 30 percent fewer
women in the screening group died of breast cancer and that this effect
persisted year after year. Now, 29 years after the study began, the
researchers found that the number of women saved from breast cancer goes
up with each year of screening.
“Over the past 40
years, screening Mammography has been repeatedly proven to be the best
tool for breast cancer screening,” said Surendra Pawar, MD, of Mon
General Hospital’s Imaging Services. “Additional imaging studies like Ultrasound,
MRI, PET and nuclear scans complement mammography in a complete
“During this period, there have been
studies which have been controversial,” Dr. Pawar said. “These studies
questioned the importance of mammography.”
screening recommendations issued in 2009 by the U.S. Preventive
Services Task Force, an influential advisory group, recommended against
routine mammograms for women in their 40s and said women in their 50s
should get mammograms every other year instead of every year. The
guidelines contradicted years of messages about the need for routine
breast cancer screening starting at age 40, resulting in protests from
breast cancer experts and advocacy groups who argued the recommendation
for fewer screenings would confuse women and result in more deaths from
The changes were meant to spare women
some of the worry and expense of extra tests needed to distinguish
between cancer and harmless lumps. However, the latest results from the
Swedish study show the rate of false positive results was low.
“In spite of these controversies and short-sighted opinions,
the American College of Radiology, Surgeons and Oncologists in your
community and nationally, stayed focused on using mammography as a
screening tool,” Dr. Pawar said. “Your community physicians at Mon
General Hospital remain committed to providing the best possible care
for breast cancer detection with digital mammography and other
complementary imaging tools.”
In the Swedish study,
women were divided into two groups - one that received an invitation to
have breast cancer screening and another that received usual care.
screening phase of the trial lasted about seven years. Women between 40
and 49 were screened every two years, and women 50 to 74 were screened
roughly every three years.
Results indicated that in
1,000 women screened for 10 years, three breast cancer deaths would be
prevented. This indicates that the long-term benefits of screening in
terms of deaths prevented are more than double those often quoted for
The new data adds to evidence of the long-term benefits of regular mammography screening.
Many groups, including the American Cancer Society, have
stuck by their long-standing recommendations of a yearly breast exam for
women starting at age 40, stressing that the breast X-rays have been
proven to save lives by spotting tumors early, when they are most easily
Breast cancer is the second-leading cause
of cancer death among U.S. women, after lung cancer. It kills 500,000
people globally every year and is diagnosed in close to 1.3 million
people around the world.