Image: Woman with radiologic technologist during screening mammography exam (Photo courtesy of American Cancer Society)
The significance of timely breast cancer screenings is underscored by their role in reducing mortality rates. Detecting breast cancer early, before any symptoms manifest, dramatically improves survival rates. Women aged 45 to 54 are advised to undergo yearly mammograms, while those 55 and older may opt for biennial screenings or maintain yearly checks. Now, a new study highlights the potential repercussions of missing even one mammogram, indicating it could lead to a diagnosis at a more advanced stage, adversely affecting the patient’s survival prospects.
Despite the recognized benefits of regular mammograms in early cancer detection, various obstacles continue to prevent some women from accessing this critical preventive measure, including logistical issues related to work, family responsibilities, or healthcare access. To quantify the impact of missing screenings, researchers from the American Cancer Society (ACS, Atlanta, GA, USA) analyzed the screening histories of 36,079 breast cancer patients from oncology centers across Sweden, spanning from 1992 to 2016. They cross-referenced this data with mortality information from the Swedish Cause of Death Register, identifying 4,564 breast cancer deaths within the cohort. The study meticulously tracked the women’s attendance at up to five of the most recent mammogram invitations before their cancer diagnosis.
Findings reveal a stark contrast in survival rates: Women who consistently attended all screening invitations had a survivability rate exceeding 80%, while those who bypassed all screenings had survival rates ranging between 59.1% and 77.6%. Consistent attendance at all five screenings correlated with a 72% decrease in the risk of succumbing to breast cancer, compared to those who neglected all screenings. Even when adjusting for potential biases, there remained a substantial 66% reduction in breast cancer mortality risk for regular attendees. The study’s findings emphasize the critical need for imaging facilities to ensure timely screenings for women, particularly when they need to reschedule missed appointments. It advocates for prioritizing and promptly rescheduling canceled mammograms to the earliest possible date, underscoring the life-saving potential of regular, timely breast cancer screenings.
“The purpose of mammography is to detect breast cancer during the few years it can be seen on a mammogram, but before symptoms are apparent,” said study author Robert A. Smith, Ph.D., senior vice president and director of the American Cancer Society Center for Cancer Screening in Atlanta, Georgia. “If a woman unknowingly has breast cancer and misses or postpones her mammogram during this time when she has no symptoms, but her breast cancer is growing and perhaps spreading, then the window for early detection will be lost.”
American Cancer Society