Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) co-ordinated a trial involving 23 NHS breast screening units across England, Wales and Scotland* that invited women aged in their forties to undergo regular mammograms. Between 1991 and 2004, more than 50,000 women aged 40 or 41 were invited to begin regular annual screening up to age 48.
Each particular round of screening invitations received a response of about 69 per cent. About 81 per cent of the women attended at least one routine screen, while about half attended at least six screens.
The NHS Breast Screening Programme currently provides free mammograms every three years for all women in the UK aged 50 and over. By 2012, the government is planning to reduce the minimum age of women invited to screenings to 47, so the results of this study are relevant to the future of the UK screening programme.
“The attendance rate among women in their forties was similar to the current over-50s screening program, which has about a 75 per cent uptake,” says lead author Ms Louise Johns from the Cancer Screening Evaluation Unit at the ICR. “These results are important, as when the minimum age for screening is lowered, a high uptake will be necessary if it is to have an impact on breast cancer deaths.”
The latest study is part of the Age trial, which is investigating the effects of screening younger women on death rates from breast cancer. Ten year follow-up results from this trial, which were published in 2006, found that the reduction in mortality was too small to be considered statistically significant, but the data are also being re-examined after a longer follow-up time.
The effectiveness of mammographic screening among women aged 50-69 in reducing mortality from breast cancer is widely accepted, but debate continues as to whether the benefits of screening women in their forties outweighs the risks of over-treatment.
The study also found women from a lower socio-economic background were less likely to attend screening. Around 86 per cent of women in the wealthiest regions attended screening, compared to 73 per cent of women in the most deprived areas.
“Inequalities in uptake have been found in the current over-50 screening programme, and our study suggests they may persist once the minimum screening age is lowered,” says study co-author Dr Sue Moss from the ICR.
Media Contact: ICR Science Press Officer Jane Bunce or 0207 152 5106 or after hours 077217 47900
* Age trial Centres: Avon Breast Screening, Aylesbury Breast Screening Service, Breast Test Wales, Cumbria Breast Screening Service, Epping Breast Screening Service, Greater Manchester Breast Screening Service, Hanley Breast Screening, Humberside Breast Screening Service, Newcastle Breast Screening Service, North of London Breast Screening Service, Nottingham Breast Screening, Pennine Breast Screening Programme, Peterborough Breast Imaging, Sheffield Breast Screening, South Derbyshire Breast Screening Service, South East London Breast Screening Service, South East Scotland Breast Screening Programme, Surrey Breast Screening Service, Warrington Breast Screening Service, Welcome Centre Breast Unit, West Sussex Breast Screening Service, Wiltshire Breast Screening Service, Wirral Breast Centre.
The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)
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Medical Research Council
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