Study: Regular mammograms for younger women reduce cancer deaths

Failure to undergo regular breast cancer screening may lead to more breast cancer deaths, according to a study published online Sept. 9 in the journal Cancer.

Since the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2009 proposed to limit breast cancer screening to women ages 50 to 74 years, and to make such screening bi-annual rather than annual, a number of studies have been published both in support of and against the practice.

National recommendations for mammography "have become a point of contention," the study authors said. Consequently, they decided to use a technique called "failure analysis" to look backward from patients' deaths to determine any correlation between patients who died and whether they received screening.

The researchers used data from Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, evaluating more than 600 cancer deaths. They found that 71 percent of the deaths occurred among women who did not receive regular mammograms. A majority of those women had not undergone a mammogram prior to being diagnosed with cancer and, in addition, half of the breast cancer deaths occurred in women under age 50; only 13 percent of women who died of breast cancer were over the age of 70.

The findings supported the value of regular mammograms, study co-author Blake Cady, a professor emeritus of surgery at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, told HealthDay News.

"I would propose that women start screening at age 40," Cady said.

Barbara S. Monsees, M.D., chair of the American College of Radiology's Breast Imaging Commission, agreed with the study's findings, saying that they should silence critics who argue that women between the ages of 40 and 49 do not need regular mammography screenings.

"These women need annual screening--as do all women 40 and older," Monsees said in a statement. "Breast cancer treatment has come a long way, but, as this study demonstrates, these advances have not negated the value of, or the need for early detection. This is especially true for younger women, who tend to have faster growing tumors."

To learn more:
- see the study in Cancer
- read the article in HealthDay News
- see the statement from the American College of Radiology

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