The January issue of the medical journal Cancer reported a study by the researchers of the Health Sciences Center in Denver, which showed that regular mammography screening for women in their 40s leads to diagnosis of breast cancer at an earlier stage. This could facilitate the use of more effective and less radical treatment options.
Sandra Buseman, MD, lead author of the study and colleagues found that nearly 25% of all breast cancer deaths occur in women who were diagnosed between ages 40 and 49. Buseman claimed that while breast cancer incidence has increased over the past decade, breast cancer deaths had decreased. She attributed this to the widespread adoption of mammography screening, in addition to improvements made in therapy. However, she also added that the debate on effectiveness of screening mammography in reducing breast carcinoma mortality for women who are 40 to 49 years of age is still on.
Buseman and her colleagues, in the latest study, looked at 247 women diagnosed with breast cancer between the ages of 42 and 49. While 105 of the women had received a mammogram in the two years before being diagnosed, 142 had not undergone screening. They found that those women who had been screened were 44% less likely to be diagnosed with a later stage of breast cancer compared with women who had not received regular mammograms. 58% of cancers were detected by mammography alone and these cancers were more likely to be diagnosed at an early stage. They also observed that there were no significant differences in regard to treatment in the screened and unscreened groups due to the fact that stage II breast cancers, although classified as 'late stage', are treated similarly to early stage cancers. However, Buseman concluded that the study did not address potentially harmful consequences of mammography among women in their 40s. She said that the test is less accurate in younger women, and in some cases, noninvasive (in situ) cancers might be treated more aggressively than is necessary.
Breast cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, would account for about 39,800 deaths in the US, according to an American Cancer Society estimate. The society also estimated that in 2003 about 211,300 new cases of invasive breast cancer (stages I to IV) will be diagnosed among women in America. Carcinoma in situ (CIS) will account for an additional 55,700 new cases this year. However, the brighter side of these studies indicate that the breast cancer incidence rate has been steadily falling from 4% per year during 1980s to less than 1% per year in recent years.