Recent estimates from the US indicate that since 1989, hundreds of thousands of women's lives have been saved by mammography and improvements in breast cancer treatment. Published in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings point to progress made in early detection and management of breast cancer.

Mammography screening became widely available in the mid-1980s, and a number of effective therapies have been developed since that time. To estimate the number of breast cancer deaths averted since 1989 as a result of these, Edward Hendrick from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, together with Jay Baker from Duke University Medical Center and Mark Helvie from the University of Michigan Health System, analysed mortality data in females in the US between ages 40 to 84.

Cumulative breast cancer deaths averted from 1990 to 2015 ranged from more than 305,000 women to more than 483,000 women, depending on different background mortality assumptions. When extrapolating results to 2018, cumulative breast cancer deaths averted since 1989 ranged between 384,000 and 614,500. In 2018 alone, an estimated 27,083 to 45,726 breast cancer deaths were prevented.

“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,” said Henrick. “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.”

Henrick noted that currently, only about half of US women over 40 years of age receive regular mammography screenings. “The best possible long-term effect of our findings would be to help women recognise that early detection and modern, personalised breast cancer treatment saves lives and to encourage more women to get screened annually starting at age 40.”

Helvie cautioned that women should not remain complacent in light of improvement in treatments. “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," Helvie said.