Study reinforces Mon General Hospital's commitment to regular mammogram screenings

Posted Date: 7/7/2011
The longest-running breast cancer screening study ever conducted has shown that regular mammograms prevent deaths from breast cancer, and the number of lives saved increases over time, according to an international research team.

The study involved 130,000 women in two communities in Sweden. It showed 30 percent fewer women in the screening group died of breast cancer and that this effect persisted year after year. Now, 29 years after the study began, the researchers found that the number of women saved from breast cancer goes up with each year of screening.

“Over the past 40 years, screening Mammography has been repeatedly proven to be the best tool for breast cancer screening,” said Surendra Pawar, MD, of Mon General Hospital’s Imaging Services. “Additional imaging studies like Ultrasound, MRI, PET and nuclear scans complement mammography in a complete evaluation.

“During this period, there have been studies which have been controversial,” Dr. Pawar said. “These studies questioned the importance of mammography.”

New breast screening recommendations issued in 2009 by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an influential advisory group, recommended against routine mammograms for women in their 40s and said women in their 50s should get mammograms every other year instead of every year. The guidelines contradicted years of messages about the need for routine breast cancer screening starting at age 40, resulting in protests from breast cancer experts and advocacy groups who argued the recommendation for fewer screenings would confuse women and result in more deaths from breast cancer.

The changes were meant to spare women some of the worry and expense of extra tests needed to distinguish between cancer and harmless lumps. However, the latest results from the Swedish study show the rate of false positive results was low.

“In spite of these controversies and short-sighted opinions, the American College of Radiology, Surgeons and Oncologists in your community and nationally, stayed focused on using mammography as a screening tool,” Dr. Pawar said. “Your community physicians at Mon General Hospital remain committed to providing the best possible care for breast cancer detection with digital mammography and other complementary imaging tools.”

In the Swedish study, women were divided into two groups - one that received an invitation to have breast cancer screening and another that received usual care.

The screening phase of the trial lasted about seven years. Women between 40 and 49 were screened every two years, and women 50 to 74 were screened roughly every three years.

Results indicated that in 1,000 women screened for 10 years, three breast cancer deaths would be prevented. This indicates that the long-term benefits of screening in terms of deaths prevented are more than double those often quoted for short-term follow-up.

The new data adds to evidence of the long-term benefits of regular mammography screening.

Many groups, including the American Cancer Society, have stuck by their long-standing recommendations of a yearly breast exam for women starting at age 40, stressing that the breast X-rays have been proven to save lives by spotting tumors early, when they are most easily treated.

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women, after lung cancer. It kills 500,000 people globally every year and is diagnosed in close to 1.3 million people around the world.
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