Study revives debate over
breast cancer screening age
Update to long-running study finds screening from age of 40 rather than 50 could save lives.
Screening women from the age of 40 for breast cancer has the potential to save lives, according to a study that will reopen the debate over the timing as well as the risks and benefits of routine mammograms.
A group at Queen Mary University of London looked at data on 160,000 women between the ages of 39 and 41 who were randomly assigned either to annual breast screening or to wait until they were eligible for the usual NHS screening, offered every three years from the age of 50.
The women were recruited between 1990 and 1997, when technologies and treatments were not as effective as they are now.
The study is an update, 23 years after the project began, and has similar findings to the last report at 15 years. In the Lancet Oncology journal, the researchers said the benefits kicked in during the first 10 years of screening, when there were 83 deaths among the women who started screening around the age of 40 compared with 219 in the group who started later.
Over the longer term there was little difference in mortality between the two groups. However, the lead researcher, Prof Stephen Duffy, said lives could be saved by lowering the screening age.
“This is a very long-term follow-up of a study which confirms that screening in women under 50 can save lives. The benefit is seen mostly in the first 10 years, but the reduction in mortality persists in the long term at about one life saved per 1,000 women screened,” he said.
“We now screen more thoroughly and with better equipment than in the 1990s, when most of the screening in this trial took place, so the benefits may be greater than we’ve seen in this study.”
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