Mammography screening can reduce the risk of death from breast cancer by 40 percent in women aged 50 to 69, a major international review suggested on June 3.
Overall, women aged 50 to 69 who are invited to attend mammography screening have a 23 percent risk reduction in breast cancer death, compared with women not invited by routine screening programs, according to the review coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization's specialized cancer agency.
The latest research was based on a comprehensive analysis of evidence from 11 randomized controlled trials and 40 high-quality observational studies by experts from 16 countries, who met at the IARC in November 2014 to assess the positive and negative impact of different breast cancer screening methods.
The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, will contribute to an update of the 2002 IARC handbook on breast cancer screening.
In addition to the confirmation that women aged 50 to 69 benefit the most from breast cancer screening, the review also showed a substantial reduction in risk of death from breast cancer by inviting women aged 70 to 74 for screening -- a shift away from previous consensus.
However, only limited evidence was identified in favor of screening women in their 40s, it found.
Commenting on the findings, Professor Stephen Duffy of Queen Mary University of London, one of the experts involved, said: " This important analysis will hopefully reassure women around the world that breast screening with mammography saves lives."
Duffy also called for further research on alternative screening methods, such as the promising "digital breast tomosynthesis," a newly developed form of 3D imaging which could potentially improve the accuracy of mammography in coping with more dense breast tissue.
"It is also vital we continue researching the most effective ways of screening women at high risk of breast cancer due to family history or genetic status. We need further evidence to fine- tune services offered to high risk women in terms of different screening methods, from an earlier age and possibly at shorter intervals," he added.
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women worldwide. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in developed countries and the leading cause of cancer death in low and middle-income countries, where a high proportion of women are diagnosed in advanced stages of the disease.
The purpose of breast screening is to diagnose women with breast cancer earlier, therefore improving prognosis and reducing the number of late-stage cases and deaths. However, concerns have been raised in recent years over the negative impact of mammography screening such as false-positive results, overdiagnosis, and possibly radiation-induced cancer.
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