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Study Finds Mammograms Reduce Death Risk

December 8, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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Women who undergo screening mammograms have a 49 percent lower risk of dying of breast cancer, according to a study published online this week in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Lead author Suzie J. Otto, PhD, expressed no doubt about the implications:

Our study adds further evidence that mammography screening unambiguously reduces breast cancer mortality.

Dr. Otto is a senior researcher in the department of public health at Erasmus MC, the medical center of Erasmus University, in Rotterdam, Netherlands. She was quoted in a news release from the American Association for Cancer Research, which publishes Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

The case-control study focused on 755 Netherlands women who died of breast cancer from 1995 to 2003. Each case was matched to five controls based on year of birth, number of invitations to screening mammography, and number of invitations before diagnosis—a total of 3,739 controls in all.

Of the women with breast cancer, 29.8 percent had the cancer detected at a mammogram screening and 34.3 percent between screenings, while 35.9 percent had never been screened.

The researchers found that 34.2 percent of the screening-detected cancers were found at a localized stage, compared with 10.8 percent of the cancers detected between screenings and 10.3 percent detected in women who had not been screened.

Stage IV tumors were found in 29.5 percent of the women who had never been screened but only 5.3 percent of the women whose cancer was detected at a screening.

And the bottom line: If women had attended at least three screenings before their cancer diagnosis, their risk of dying from breast cancer was reduced by 49 percent. The greatest reduction was among women age 70 to 75: 84 percent. Among women 50 to 69, the reduction was 39 percent.

The study authors did say that both screening and treatment have improved, and that the study was not able to determine the extent to which better treatment contributed to lower mortality rates.

However, the study says, “We observed that women with breast cancer who died of the disease less often underwent surgery compared with those still alive, which is likely according to their advanced stage at diagnosis as emphasized by the high proportion of surgery among the screen-detected cases.”

Related seminar: Pittsburgh Breast Imaging Seminar

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