Mammography before age 50 can save lives
September 9, 2013 — A new study published online September 9 in the journal Cancer has found that more than 70% of deaths from breast cancer in a group of over 7,000 women occurred in individuals who did not receive regular screening mammograms. The findings indicate that breast screening saves lives — particularly for women in their 40s, the researchers believe.
The researchers used data from two hospitals, Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, both part of the Partners HealthCare system. The team tracked invasive breast cancers diagnosed between 1990 and 1999 and followed through 2007.
The dataset included information on demographics, mammography use, surgical and pathology reports, and recurrence and death dates. To verify that a patient had died of breast cancer, the researchers used proof of distant metastatic disease by biopsy, other operation, radiological pattern, or laboratory or clinical reports. They also used clinical and progress notes, death certificates, hospital discharge summaries, and autopsies.
Among 609 confirmed breast cancer deaths, 29% were among women who had been screened with mammography, while 71% were among women who were not screened. Also, the women who died of breast cancer were younger: Of all breast cancer deaths, only 13% occurred in women age 70 or older, but 50% occurred in women younger than 50.
“If half the deaths of women who develop breast cancer and die occur in women under the age of 50, that implies we could probably prevent many of those deaths by screening women in their 40s,” suggests lead author Dr. Blake Cady.