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Mammograms Reduce Breast Cancer Deaths

A team of Swedish scientists found a significantly reduced incidence of advanced breast cancers and breast cancer deaths when women get regular mammograms.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Improvements in cancer treatment options, the promotion of breast self-exams, and the adoption of regular breast cancer screenings using mammography (mammograms) have all contributed to reducing breast cancer deaths.

What are mammograms?

A mammogram is a special kind of screening where a picture of the inside of a woman’s breasts is taken using a low dose of X-rays in order to look for possible cancerous growths.  It is recommended that women aged 50 and above get a mammogram every two years.  Women aged 40 to 49 are also recommended for a mammogram if they have a family history of breast cancer.

Mammograms versus treatment

To determine if mammograms reduced breast cancer deaths, researchers in Sweden compared breast cancer screening with mammograms to the effects of improved cancer treatments. The researchers analyzed the records of more than half a million Swedish women aged 40 to 54 years old who received mammogram screenings every 18 months and women aged 55 to 69 years of age who received mammograms every two years.

The scientists searched through public databases of mammogram records. They separated the women as regular mammogram participants and those who did not go for regular screenings (non-participants). The incidence of advanced breast cancers in both participant and non-participant groups were compared. Finally, the number of women who died within 10 years of their initial breast cancer diagnosis was also reviewed

Do mammograms reduce breast cancer deaths?

Women who went for regular mammograms had a 41% lower chance of dying within 10 years of the initial diagnosis date. A reduced incidence of advanced breast cancers was also a result of regular screenings. Women who went for regular mammograms had a 25% reduction in their chance of developing advanced breast cancer compared to women who did not get regular mammograms. 

These numbers were all taken during the same time period, so breast cancer treatment choices were the same for both participant and non-participant women. This suggests that the treatments used may not explain the differences in cancer severity or death in this population.  Since the database was from the Swedish public health care system, the researchers could not include results from women who went to private clinics for screenings and treatments. 

Regular mammograms save lives

The results of the study suggest that regular mammograms can reduce the risk of advanced breast cancers and reduce the risk of death. These results highlight how important it is for women to follow a regular screening program for prevention versus needing aggressive treatment. Regular mammograms can increase the chances of early breast cancer detection and reduce the risk of dying from this disease.

References

1. Early mammography screening lowers risk of developing fatal breast cancer. EurekAlert! May 11, 2020. Accessed May 12, 2020. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/624811.

2. Duffy SW, Tabár L, Yen AM, et al. Mammography screening reduces rates of advanced and fatal breast cancers: Results in 549,091 women. Cancer. 2020;126(13):2971-2979. doi:10.1002/cncr.32859

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