A detailed analysis of available data has indicated that breast cancer patients can live as long as healthy women if their cancer is detected early.
The findings of this new audit, by the Association of Breast Surgery and the NHS Breast Screening Programme, may prove to be good news for more than 60 per cent women whose cancers are detected when small, before spreading to the lymph nodes.
The audit took into account the outcomes for women with breast cancer diagnosed in 1990-91 and 2000-01.
61 per cent of cancers detected through screening were divided into to groups. Women who were in a group, which was classified as "excellent" on diagnosis at the time of detection, had the same life expectancy as women of the same age who had never had cancer. The same also held true for the second group of women whose prognosis was "good".
The audit demonstrated a significant improvement in the survival rates for women having more aggressive types of breast cancer.
On the whole, a 15-year survival stands at 86 per cent for women with a screen-detected invasive breast cancer in England, Wales and Northern Ire-land.
However, all breast cancers are not screen-detected. In fact, two thirds of the cancers are detected in ways other than screening. This may be because they appear during the intervals between screenings and produce symptoms, or because they occur in women who fall outside the age groups routinely screened.
The scientists are planning to extend screening to include women aged between 47 and 73 by 2012. This implies that an extra 400,000 women a year will be screened and an increased proportion of cancers detected.
"It is vital that women are aware of the excellent survival now achieved for breast cancers diagnosed through screening and they should be confident in the quality of the service they receive. I would encourage all women who are invited to be screened to attend. Any woman who has previously ignored an invitation to breast screening should contact her local unit," Times Online quoted Martin Lee, president of the Association of Breast Surgery, as saying.