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New findings from a Dutch case-control study show getting a mammogram doesn’t keep you from developing breast cancer, but it can certainly save your life.
Women who attended at least three breast screenings prior to diagnosis cut their risk for death from breast cancer by nearly half (49 percent).
The greatest reduction was seen in women aged between 70 and 75 years old, where the reduction in mortality was 84 percent. Among younger women (aged 50 to 69 years old), the reduction was smaller, at 39 percent, but still statistically significant.
“Our study adds further evidence that mammography screening unambiguously reduces breast cancer mortality,” said Suzie Otto, Ph.D., a senior researcher in the department of public health at the Erasmus MC at Rotterdam in the Netherlands in a media release.
Otto said the findings are applicable in the United States in principle, but the United States lacks a centrally organized government-funded program similar to what is found in the Netherlands. Many U.S. women who have health insurance can now get no-cost annual mammogram screenings under the Affordable Healthcare Act.
“The Dutch government considers it imperative that everyone eligible for a screening program is given the opportunity to participate,” said Otto. “For that reason, all women in the targeted age group are invited and given the opportunity to decide independently to participate or not in screening programs that are entirely free of charge.”
In the study, Otto and colleagues observed 755 patients who died from breast cancer during 1995 to 2003 and matched them with 3,739 controls. Among the breast cancer cases, 29.8 percent were detected at screening, 34.3 percent were detected between screenings and 35.9 percent had never been screened.
Stage IV tumors were present in 29.5 percent of the never-screened cases but only 5.3 percent of the screen-detected cases.
U.S. statistics gathered by the National Cancer Institute, part of the Institutes of Health, show from 2004-2008, the latest data available, the median age for all breast cancer diagnoses was 61. The median age for breast cancer death was 68.