DEBATE has been ongoing for some time in the medical community as to whether screening programmes for breast cancer have any significant impact on the chances of survival following a cancer diagnosis. However, the results of a new study look set to help resolve the issue.
Researchers from a number of institutions, including Queen Mary University, London, UK, and the Falun Central Hospital, Falun, Sweden, gathered data from 52,438 women aged 40–69 years. A proportion of the patients opted to participate in breast cancer screening over a 39-year period in Dalarna, Sweden. The data was analysed using a new method, in which researchers quantified the number of cases of breast cancer each year that would lead to death within 10 and 20 years after diagnosis.
All participants of the study who developed breast cancer were treated according to the treatment guidelines of the time. Those who had taken part in breast cancer screening programmes were found to have a 60% lower risk of death within 10 years of diagnosis, and a 47% lower risk of death within 20 years of diagnosis. The research team suggested that the screening programmes helped to detect tumours at an earlier stage of the disease, which is easier to treat than later stages.
Prof Stephen Duffy, Centre for Cancer Prevention, Queen Mary University, acknowledged the progress that has been made in treatments for breast cancer but added: “However, these new results demonstrate the vital role that screening also has to play, giving women a much greater benefit from modern treatments. We need to ensure that participation in breast screening programmes improves, especially in socio-economically deprived areas.”