Two Studies Find Routine Mammography Saves Lives

Decades-long look at Dutch screening program finds benefit, even as treatments got better

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If screening were extended to women ages 40-49, deaths would be reduced by a further 5.1 percent, according to Rianne de Gelder, a graduate student and researcher at the Erasmus University Medical Center.

"The effectiveness of breast cancer screening has been heavily debated in the last couple of years. One of the arguments that critics have is that, since breast cancer patients can be treated so effectively with adjuvant therapy, the relative effects of screening become smaller and smaller," de Gelder explained in a meeting news release.

However, "our study shows that, even in the presence of adjuvant therapy, mammography screening (between age 50 and 75) is highly effective in reducing breast cancer deaths and, in fact, is slightly more effective than adjuvant treatment," she said. For that reason, "screening women of these ages should definitely continue."

Byrne agreed, noting as well that the sometimes onerous side effects of chemotherapy treatment make catching tumors early via mammography even more crucial. Chemotherapy can "result in a significant decrease in quality of life," she said. "However, this study shows, even in the presence of adjuvant therapy, mammography screening reduces breast cancer deaths."

De Gelder and her colleagues said further investigation is still needed to determine "the ideal age for starting screening, taking into account not only the effects, but also the risks and costs of extending the lower age limits."

In the United States, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2009 advocated that women not begin mammography screening until age 50, a decision that touched off an ongoing debate over whether women in their 40s should get such screening. Groups such as the American Cancer Society still support regular mammography screening for women ages 40 to 49.

Findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about breast cancer screening.

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