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In 30 years, mammograms have saved half a million lives

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March 4, 2019—Since 1989, more than 500,000 lives have been saved by mammograms and better breast cancer treatments, according to a new study.

Doctors use screening mammograms to check for very early signs of breast cancer in women who don't have any signs or symptoms of cancer. Cases of breast cancer found through screening are likely to be diagnosed at an early stage—before the cancer spreads. And that's when breast cancer treatment typically works best.

Mammograms came into widespread use in the 1980s. Breast cancer treatments have improved since then too. How many deaths were prevented by this one-two punch? To find out, researchers compared death records and other data for women ages 40 to 84. Based on that data, they estimated that:

  • Since 1989, the cumulative number of breast cancer deaths avoided ranged from 384,000 to 614,500.
  • In 2018 alone, screening and treatment prevented an estimated 27,083 to 45,726 breast cancer deaths.
  • Screening and improved treatment decreased the expected death rate from breast cancer in 2018 by up to 58.3 percent.

When to start screening

According to the American Cancer Society, women at average risk of breast cancer:

  • Have the option to start yearly screening at age 40.
  • Should definitely get screened once a year from age 45 to 54.
  • Can switch to a mammogram every other year starting at age 55, if they choose to do so.
  • Should keep getting screened for as long as they are in good health or until a doctor advises stopping screening.

Women at higher risk for breast cancer (such as those with a significant family history or who have inherited a gene that makes them vulnerable) should get a mammogram along with an MRI scan (a more sensitive imaging test) every year starting at age 30.

The study appears in the journal Cancer.

Get ready for your next mammogram

You can take steps to help ensure an accurate and easy mammogram. Check out these tips.

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