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Breast cancer screening saved over 27,000 lives in 2018

An analysis of mortality rates related to breast cancer from 1989 until 2018 indicates that breast cancer screening, paired with access to better treatment, has significantly improved the health outcome for women with this type of cancer over the past few decades.
woman receiving mammogram
Since 1989, breast cancer-related death rates have fallen exponentially, primarily due to screening and better care.

The American Cancer Society report that, on average, a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer during her lifetime is approximately 12 percent.

Furthermore, the Society estimate that about 268,600 women in the United States will receive a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer in 2019.

However, they also note that although breast cancer incidence rates have increased by 0.4 percent each year, mortality rates due to this disease have been declining.

A new report put together by investigators from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC, and the Department of Radiology and Rogel Cancer Center of the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, MI indicates that in 2018 expected mortality rates related to breast cancer dropped by approximately half, compared with the situation almost 3 decades ago.

The report — which appears in the journal Cancer of the American Cancer Society — also argues that this significant decrease is mostly due to women getting timely breast cancer screening (mammograms). It is also due to better access to improved therapy once they receive a diagnosis.

Over 27,000 fewer deaths in 2018

The research team looked at the breast cancer mortality rates and other related data collected from women in the U.S. who were between 40–84 years old from 1989 to 2018. Researchers first recorded this information through the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program of the National Cancer Institute.

Since 1990, the researchers explain, breast cancer mortality rates have decreased between 1.8 to 3.4 percent per year.

More specifically, the investigators found that there were between 20,860–33,842 fewer breast cancer deaths in 2012 alone. This is probably due to greater access to mammograms and better cancer treatment.

In 2015 there were 23,703–39,415 fewer deaths, and as recently as 2018, there were 27,083–45,726 fewer breast cancer deaths in the U.S.

In terms of mortality rates, there was a 38.6–50.5 percent reduction in 2012, a 41.5–54.2 percent reduction in 2015, and an estimated 45.3–58.3 percent decrease in breast cancer death rates in 2018.

Overall, from 1989 onwards, cancer screening and access to better treatment led to between 384,046 and 614,484 fewer related deaths overall.

‘Get screened annually from age 40’

“Recent reviews of mammography screening have focused media attention on some of the risks of mammography screening, such as call-backs for additional imaging and breast biopsies, downplaying the most important aspect of screening — that finding and treating breast cancer early saves women’s lives,” notes first author Dr. R. Edward Hendrick.

“Our study provides evidence of just how effective the combination of early detection and modern breast cancer treatment have been in averting breast cancer deaths,” he adds.

Hendrick also points out that, at present, only about half of women aged 40 and over receive breast cancer screening in the U.S. He hopes the current findings will motivate more individuals in this at-risk group to seek regular checks.

The best possible long-term effect of our findings would be to help women recognize that early detection and modern, personalized breast cancer treatment saves lives and to encourage more women to get screened annually starting at age 40.”

Dr. R. Edward Hendrick

Study co-author Dr. Mark Helvie expresses a belief that, in the future, advances in breast cancer screening methods and treatment will continue to lead to a decrease in mortality rates.

However, he stresses, “While we anticipate new scientific advances that will further reduce breast cancer deaths and morbidity, it is important that women continue to comply with existing screening and treatment recommendations.”

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