THE QUESTION Does getting or not getting regular mammograms affect women’s chances of dying from breast cancer?
THIS STUDY analyzed data on 7,301 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. During the 17-year span of the study, 1,705 of the women died, including 609 whose deaths were confirmed as caused by breast cancer and 72 whose deaths were described as “highly likely” to have been caused by their cancer. Of the women who died of breast cancer, 71 percent had not had a mammogram before their diagnosis. Among those who died, 13 percent were 70 or older; about 50 percent were younger than 50. The researchers concluded that based on their data “initiation of regular screening before age 50 should be encouraged.”
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Women, especially those younger than 50. The chance of developing breast cancer, the most common cancer in U.S. women, increases with age. More than 230,000 U.S. women receive a diagnosis of breast cancer each year, and about 40,000 die from it. Guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force call for mammograms every other year starting at age 50, but they do not recommend them as a routine screening for younger women. The American Cancer Society recommends starting annual screenings at age 40.
CAVEATS The analysis did not take into account the effect on mortality of various types of cancer treatments the women may have received. Most women in the study were white, had average or higher incomes and were treated at academic hospitals.
FIND THIS STUDY Sept. 9 online issue of Cancer.
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.