Breast cancer screening still saves lives

Thursday 4th June 2015
Leading experts have said that breast cancer screening still saves lives, urging women to not ignore them. Image Credit: choja
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There have been various concerns about the efficiency of breast cancer screening, but leading experts have said it still saves many lives.

A team of 29 independent experts from 16 countries looked at 40 studies, led by the World Health Organization's (WHO) cancer agency. 

Publishing their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine, the experts say screening still saves lives. Their conclusion supports current NHS advice, which states that women between the ages of 50 and 69 should be screened once every three years.

However, the proportion of women in this demographic attending screening in England has dipped slightly over the past few years.

According to the report, although there are concerns about potential risks and there has been significant improvement in treating breast cancer, screening still remains important for women.

It found that women who undergo breast cancer screening cut their risk of dying from the disease by 40 per cent, according to the experts.

The NHS estimates it saves 1,300 lives a year from breast cancer in the UK. However, the report also acknowledges some downsides to the procedure - such as over-diagnosis. This means women with a slow-growing cancer, which would not have caused harm, shows up and can sometimes lead to unnecessary treatment.

In these instances, some women can be put through more tests before they get an all clear, as screening can pick up changes that are not cancerous.

Professor Stephen Duffy, from Queen Mary University of London and author of the report, said: "This important analysis will hopefully reassure women around the world that breast screening with mammography saves lives.

"The evidence proves breast screening is a vital tool in increasing early diagnosis of breast cancer and therefore reducing the number of deaths."

The study also suggests that the age restriction should be extended to help target more people, with the University of Oxford conducting pilot studies involving women outside the official age group.

Written by Angela Newbury

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