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Half a million breast cancer deaths have been prevented over 30 years

A new study published by the American Cancer Society has revealed that hundreds of thousands of women’s lives have been saved through the use of mammography and advances in breast cancer treatment.

“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,” said study co-author Dr. Edward Hendrick of the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

“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.”

The researchers set out to estimate the number of deaths that have been prevented since 1989, after mammograms had become widely available and therapies had improved. They did this by analyzing population and breast cancer mortality data from over the past 30 years for women between 40 and 84 years old.

From 1990 to 2018, the total number of breast cancer deaths averted ranged from 384,000 to 614,500, depending on different background mortality assumptions. An estimated 27,083 to 45,726 breast cancer deaths were averted in the year 2018 alone. The researchers estimated that mammography and improved breast cancer treatment decreased the expected mortality rate by 45.3 to 58.3 percent in 2018.

Dr. Hendrick noted that currently, only about half of women over the age of 40 receive regular breast cancer screening in the United States.

“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,” said Dr. Hendrick.

According to study co-author Dr. Mark Helvie, additional benefits will likely be discovered with future research.

“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.”

The study is published in the journal CANCER.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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