New research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Breast Surgeons suggests that mammography screenings can lower breast cancer patients’ need for aggressive treatment like chemotherapy or surgery down the line, Forbes reports.
The report — presented by Elisa Port, MD, chief of the breast surgery clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City — is notably rare in the field because it looked at how mammography can affect outcomes other than survival. It also suggests that early detection and regular checkups for women over 40 isn’t just a matter of life or death but also quality of life.
For the study, researchers conducted a retrospective analysis of 1,125 consecutive breast cancer cases diagnosed between 2008 and 2016. Approximately one in four in this study group were women ages 40 to 49. In the report, investigators focused on this age bracket for a subgroup analysis.
They found that women in their 40s with breast cancer who had not been screened in the two years before being diagnosed had significantly larger tumors and were more likely to have positive lymph nodes. And after diagnosis, these women were far more likely to have to undergo mastectomy, lymph node dissection or receive chemotherapy than those who had received a mammogram. Researchers noted that although the group without screening was small (just 23 patients), the data reflect the importance of mammograms in this age group.
“There’s not just a survival advantage to screening. There’s potential for less treatment,” said Port, at a press event for the study. “Without mammography,” she continued, “the personal harms go up—of having larger tumors, greater risk
This trend of finding larger breast tumors in unscreened patients echoes another recent report presented at the European Breast Cancer Conference that analyzed trends in tumor size among North American women. Meanwhile, only 60 to 70 percent of women who qualify for mammograms based on the latest guidelines are actually getting screened in the first place.
Current breast cancer screening guidelines recommend that women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual mammograms if they want to. Women ages 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year. Women 55 and older can switch to mammograms every two years if they like as long as they are in good health and expected to live 10 more years or longer.