Women who take part in breast screening have a significantly greater benefit from treatments than those who are not screened, a study has found.
Research led by Queen Mary University of London revealed that women who chose to participate in an organised breast cancer screening programme had a 60% lower risk of dying from the disease within 10 years after diagnosis.
They had a 47% lower risk of dying from breast cancer within 20 years after diagnosis, the study of more than 50,000 women found.
Researchers said this benefit occurs because screening detects cancers at an earlier stage, meaning that they respond much better to treatment.
The research, which used data from Sweden, is published in the American Cancer Society’s peer-review journal Cancer.
Mammography screening is offered to all women aged 50-70 in the UK through the NHS Breast Screening Programme, with participation rates averaging at more than 70% – but varying dramatically across the country, with lower rates in poorer, inner-city areas.
Senior author Professor Stephen Duffy, of Queen Mary University of London, said: “Recent improvements in treatments have led to reduced deaths from breast cancer.
“However, these new results demonstrate the vital role that screening also has to play, giving women a much greater benefit from modern treatments.
“We need to ensure that participation in breast screening programmes improves, especially in socio-economically deprived areas.”
Rachel Rawson, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said: “This groundbreaking study firmly underscores that being diagnosed by screening means longer lives for many, many women, as treatment is more effective the sooner breast cancer is detected.
“So the shocking failings uncovered earlier this year in issuing invitations must not be allowed to happen again.
“A breast cancer diagnosis is incredibly traumatic, and early detection can importantly lead to treatments with fewer long-term side-effects, helping many women to move forward from this devastating disease sooner and get on with their day-to-day lives.
“It is crucial every eligible woman can count on the opportunity to attend screening, and those over 70 must be informed they can request mammograms if they choose. Empowering women to make the right health choices for them with clear, balanced information should be an absolute priority.”