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Study: Mammography and Drug Treatments Reduce Deaths from Breast Cancer (dateline December 4, 2005)

A recent study tries to settle the debate concerning the reason for the decline in breast cancer deaths over the past several years. The study found that mammography and adjuvant, or additional, treatments (such as chemotherapy or hormonal therapies) with breast cancer surgery, have both helped reduce the number women who die from breast cancer. Specifically, researchers found that screening for the cancer with mammography has contributed to a 15% decline in breast cancer deaths over the past 10 to 15 years, while chemotherapy and hormone therapy reduce deaths by 19%.

The study was performed by seven research groups who make up the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network (CISNET) Collaborators. Each team designed their own statistical models to determine the effect of mammography and adjuvant breast cancer treatments on breast cancer mortality. Though each group produced different results, all found a decrease in breast cancer deaths from mammography and adjuvant therapies.

Mammography is a special type of x-ray imaging used to create detailed images of the breast and detect breast cancer years before a lump can be felt by touch. In the United States, the American Cancer Society recommends that all women 40 years of age and older receive yearly mammograms. Women at high risk of breast cancer may benefit from screening at an earlier age, based on the advice of a physician.

Once a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, treatment options vary depending on the medical situation. Most breast cancer treatment involves surgery, either lumpectomy or mastectomy. Adjuvant therapies, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and/or drugs such as tamoxifen may also be used.

While mammography does not catch all breast cancers, it is currently considered the gold standard for breast cancer detection. Indeed, the study shows that deaths from breast cancer are reduced with mammography. The earlier breast cancer is detected, the greater the chances for successful treatment and survival.

According to M.D Anderson Cancer Center, in 1975, the rate of death from breast cancer among women 30 to 79 years of age, adjusted for age to the 2000 population, was 48.3 deaths per 100,000 women. By 1990, the rate had increased slightly to 49.7 per 100,000, but then fell to 38.0 per 100,000 by 2000, a decrease of 24 percent from 1990.

Guidelines for early breast cancer detection:

  • Women 20 years of age and older should women should be told about the benefits and limitations of breast self-exams (BSE). Women should be aware of how their breasts normally feel and report any new breast change to a health professional as soon as they are found. [Note: while the American Cancer Society recently amended its guidelines and no longer recommends monthly BSE, many healthcare professionals believe strongly in this easy, no cost method of screening for breast cancer and continue to recommend BSE on a monthly basis].
  • Women 20-39 should have a physical examination of the breast (CBE or clinical breast exam) at least every three years, performed by health care professional such as a physician, physician assistant, nurse or nurse practitioner. CBE may often be received in the same appointment as a Pap smear. Women 20-39 should also perform monthly BSE.
  • Women 40 and older should have a physical examination of the breast (CBE or clinical breast exam) every year, performed by a health care professional, such as a physician, physician assistant, nurse or nurse practitioner. CBE can often be performed in the same visit as a mammogram. Monthly BSE should also be performed.
  • Women 40 years of age should receive a screening mammogram every year. The National Cancer Institute recommends mammography every one to two years for women between 40-50 years of age. Beginning at age 50, screening mammography should be performed every year.

Additional Resources and References