Breast screening vastly reduces risk of cancer death

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.

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.”

For a copy of the paper, please email candy.gibson@unisa.edu.au

Notes for editors

In Australia, free breast cancer screening is offered to all women aged between 50 and 74 years, every two years.

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.

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Media contact: NHMRC Research Fellow Dr Kerri Beckmann email: kerri.beckmann@kcl.ac.uk
UniSA Media Officer Candy Gibson office (08) 8302 0961mobile:0434 605 142
email: candy.gibson @unisa.edu.au

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