Breast screening survival figures "exceptionally good news"

In collaboration with the Press Association

Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer following a routine screening appointment have the same lifespan as women who have never had the disease, new figures have revealed.

Audit data published by the Association of Breast Surgery (ABS) and the NHS Breast Screening Programme show that women diagnosed by screening in 1990 and 1991 who had a small, low-grade tumour that had not spread to the lymph nodes had normal life expectancy 15 years after their diagnosis.

For women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in 2000/01 and placed in the 'excellent' or 'good' prognosis groups - representing 61 per cent of cancers detected through screening - data for the first five years after diagnosis also show a normal life expectancy.

 

Survival rates for women with more aggressive types of breast cancer are also improving and 86 per cent of women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can now expect to live for at least 15 years from diagnosis.

The audit also revealed that fewer women now undergo mastectomy, with three out of four women with invasive cancers in 2006/07 being treated by a breast conserving technique.

Martin Lee, president of the ABS, said that the data highlight the important role of the NHS breast screening programme in enabling early detection of breast cancer.

"It is vital that women are aware of the excellent survival now achieved for breast cancers diagnosed through screening and they should be confident in the quality of the service they receive," Mr Lee claimed.

"I would encourage all women who are invited to be screened to attend. Any woman who has previously ignored an invitation to breast screening should contact her local unit."

Professor Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Breast Screening Programme, said that "huge strides" have been made over the past two decades.

"More women than ever before are surviving breast cancer, many of whom have benefited from early detection through routine breast screening," she revealed.

"The programme continues to go from strength to strength, however it is important we constantly evaluate its effectiveness. This research will help women to make an informed choice when they receive an invitation for screening."

Henry Scowcroft, Cancer Research UK's science information manager, said: "Results like this demonstrate just how much breast screening matters. We've known for some time that the breast screening programme has been saving thousands of lives, but to hear that it's having such a long-term impact is exceptionally good news. It is particularly encouraging that survival rates are also increasing for women with more aggressive breast cancers.

"But we shouldn't be complacent. It is important to keep monitoring the screening programme to ensure it continues to meet the needs of the UK population, particularly as more women are living longer and the older a woman is the greater her risk of breast cancer."

2008 marks the 20th anniversary of breast screening in England. At present, all women between the ages of 50 and 70 are invited for breast screening every three years and around one third of breast cancers diagnosed in England are detected through the screening programme.

The programme will be extended to include women aged 47 to 73 by 2012, meaning that an additional 400,000 women will be screened every year.