Breast cancer screening from the age of 40 could save hundreds of lives

3 months ago 72
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Screening women for breast cancer in their forties could save up to 400 lives a year without a significant increase in over-diagnosis, according to new research.

At present, the NHS screening programme is offered to women aged 50-70 every three years, but those with a higher genetic risk of the disease may be screened earlier.

The new findings, published in the journal Lancet Oncology, are based on the UK Breast Screening Age Trial which took place between 1990 and 1997.

More than 160,000 women aged 39-41 were randomised to receive either annual mammography, or the usual NHS breast screening which commences at age 50.

In the 23-year follow-up, carried out by researchers from Queen Mary University of London, results of the trial showed that screening women aged 40-49 led to a 25% reduction in breast cancer mortality in the first 10 years.

They said that the total years of life saved from breast cancer in the intervention group was estimated as 620, which corresponds to 11.5 years saved per 1,000 women invited to earlier screening.

Based on the UK population of women in their 40s, that translates to somewhere between 300 and 400 lives being saved every year if the screening age was lowered and there was a 70% uptake.

Breast cancer screening uses an X-ray test called a mammogram to spot cancers that are too small to see or feel.

Around one in eight women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.

If detected early enough, the disease can be treated and recovery chances are good.

However, at present there is some uncertainty over whether earlier screening might lead to over-diagnosis of breast cancer.

This is because screening can often lead to detection of harmless cancers that can cause unnecessary distress and expose patients to the potential side-effects of treatment.

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