Mammograms Save Lives for Women in Their 40s, Study
WEDNESDAY, Sept. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Another study evaluating
the value of mammograms for younger women finds that screening can
lower the risk of dying from breast cancer for women in their
The study, done in Sweden, found that women who were screened
cut their risk by 29 percent. That means screening 1,250 women five
times over a 10-year period would save one life, study author Hakan
Jonsson said during a teleconference Wednesday. The research was
published online Wednesday in the journal
Cancer and is to be presented at the American Society of
Clinical Oncology's annual Breast Cancer Symposium, which starts
Friday in National Harbor, Md.
The findings will no doubt do little to quell a controversy that
has existed since the 1980s over the value of mammography
screenings for women in their 40s.
Last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended
that women in their 40s not at high risk for breast cancer could
forego mammograms until they turned 50 and, even then, it said they
only needed to undergo screening once every two years.
That recommendation met with outrage from breast cancer
specialists, while other organizations, including the American
Cancer Society, continued to recommend annual mammograms for women
in their 40s.
To further stir the pot, a Norwegian study released last week
found that routine mammograms accounted for only about one-third of
the decline in breast cancer death rates seen recently.
The value of mammograms for women 50 and older is not in
Speaking at the teleconference, Dr. Jennifer Obel, chair of the
American Society of Clinical Oncology's communications committee,
said: "This study adds to our knowledge of mammogram performance in
this age group. Many women aged 40 to 49 want unambiguous
recommendations. While the optimal schedule of regular mammograms
continues to be discussed by experts in the field, the critical
message here is that all women starting at age 40 should talk to
their doctor to understand the benefits and risks of screening and
to understand what is best."
"Mammography has been shown in study after study to reduce breast cancer deaths in women aged 40 to 49," Obel added. "The real message is that any time we order a diagnostic test, we need to discuss that test with our patients. It remains the best method we have available to detect breast cancer early in the general population."
The authors of the new research, the largest epidemiological
study of its kind, looked at screening and mortality data for women
in Sweden. Although screening is mandated for woman aged 50 to 69
in that country, the decision to screen earlier is made by
The study authors compared death-registry data on women in their
40s who had been invited by their county to be screened with data
on women who had not been invited. In all, more than 1 million
women were involved in the study and the follow-up period was a
lengthy 16 years.
The reduction was estimated at 26 percent to 29 percent,
depending on the model used, according to the study. The reduction
was greater when only those women that actually attended screening
The benefits were greater in women aged 45 to 49, vs. those aged
40 to 44, the researchers said.
Jonsson, an associate professor of cancer epidemiology at Umea
University in Sweden, could not pinpoint exactly why his findings
differed from those of other studies. He mentioned certain
differences in methodology as a possible factor, as well as the
possibility that mammographic techniques have improved over the
In another study released during the Wednesday press conference,
researchers from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of
Texas in Houston found that overall survival rates among breast
cancer patients in the past six decades have increased, a trend due
largely to earlier detection and treatments.
"There was a significant improvement in survival overall, including all patients with all stages of breast cancer...even those who had disseminated cancer," said study author Dr. Aman Buzdar, a professor of medicine and breast medical oncology at M.D. Anderson.
Although the data, which covered breast cancer patients who were
treated at M.D. Anderson between 1944 and 2004, came from a single
institution, Buzdar said he believes the results can be generalized
to other breast cancer patients.
U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on
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