Breast cancer screening saved over 27,000 lives in 2018

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By Maria Cohut     

Fact checked by Paula Field

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

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

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
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.”

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.