Breast Cancer Screening

Reuters reports, “Falling breast cancer death rates have little to do with breast screening but are down due to better treatment and health systems, scientists said … in a study likely to fuel a long-running row over the merits of mammograms. Researchers analyzed data from three pairs of countries in Europe and found that although breast cancer screening programs had been introduced 10 to 15 years earlier in some areas than in others, declines in death rates were similar. ”

“World Health Organization (WHO) data show that deaths from breast cancer are decreasing in the United States, Australia, and most Nordic and western European countries but breast screening is a hot topic among experts who disagree about whether nationwide mammogram programs do more harm than good.”

“The fear among some is that over-diagnosis — when screening picks up tumors that would never have presented a problem — may mean many women are undergoing unnecessary radical treatment, suffering the physical and psychological impact of a breast cancer diagnosis that would otherwise not have come up.”

“For this study, researchers from Britain, France and Norway used WHO data to compare trends in breast cancer death rates within three pairs of countries – Northern Ireland versus Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands versus Belgium and Flanders, and Sweden versus Norway.”

“The findings showed that from 1989 to 2006, deaths from breast cancer fell by 29 percent in Northern Ireland and 26 Percent in the Republic of Ireland; by 25 percent in the Netherlands, 20 percent in Belgium and 25 percent in Flanders; and by 16 percent in Sweden and 24 percent in Norway.”

“Trends in breast cancer mortality rates varied little between countries where women had been screened by mammography for a considerable time compared with those where women were largely unscreened,” the authors wrote.

“This is in sharp contrast with the temporal difference of 10 to 15 years in implementation of mammography screening and suggests that screening has not played a direct part in the reductions of breast cancer mortality.”

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