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More Evidence That Regular Mammograms Save Lives
  • Posted November 30, 2023

More Evidence That Regular Mammograms Save Lives

A woman who gets her regular mammograms as scheduled is much less likely to die from breast cancer than if she skips screenings, a new study shows.

Women with breast cancer who underwent all her scheduled mammograms had a survival rate of 80%, compared with survival rates as low as 59% for women who didn't participate in any screenings, researchers found.

“The purpose of mammography is to detect breast cancer during the few years it can be seen on a mammogram, but before symptoms are apparent,” explained researcher Robert Smith, senior vice president and director of the American Cancer Society Center (ACS) for Cancer Screening, in Atlanta.

“If a woman unknowingly has breast cancer and misses or postpones her mammogram during this time when she has no symptoms, but her breast cancer is growing and perhaps spreading, then the window for early detection will be lost,” Smith added.

Women between the ages of 45 and 54 are recommended to get mammograms annually, according to the ACS. Women 55 or older can switch to every other year if they like.

To see how important it is for women to stick to that schedule, Smith and his colleagues analyzed data on more than 36,000 breast cancer patients in Sweden from 1992 to 2016. Among those women, there were more than 4,500 breast cancer deaths.

The researchers then tracked the women's participation in as many as five of their most recent invitations for breast cancer screening prior to cancer diagnosis.

Women who attended all five screening mammograms saw a 72% reduction in their risk of dying from breast cancer, compared to those who didn't participate in any screenings.

Even after adjusting for other factors, the women who got their scheduled mammograms still had a 66% reduction in their risk of breast cancer death, researchers said.

“Women who attended all five previous mammography examinations prior to a diagnosis of breast cancer were nearly three times less likely to die from breast cancer compared with women who had not attended any examinations, and each additional examination attended among the five previous examinations conferred an additive protective effect against dying from breast cancer,” Smith said.

The findings were to be presented Thursday at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) annual meeting in Chicago. Such research should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Life does get in the way of these sort of screenings, the researchers noted. They urged imaging centers to prioritize getting patients in for screening as early as possible, and to promptly reschedule any cancellations that might occur.

“These findings show that, as much as possible, adherence to regular mammography screening is the very best insurance a woman has against being diagnosed with an advanced breast cancer that could be life-threatening,” Smith said in a meeting news release.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about breast cancer screening.

SOURCE: Radiological Society of North America, news release, Nov. 30, 2023

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