Wednesday March 31 2010
Younger women are likely to attend breast screening if the choice is offered to them, according to the findings of a study of 50,000 women published today in the Journal of Medical Screening.
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.
The trial was supported by grants from the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK, and has also received funding from the Department of Health and the US National Cancer Research Institute.
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)
- The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
- The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
- The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
- The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 95 pence in every pound of total income directly on research
- As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
- Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world
For more information visit www.icr.ac.uk
Cancer Research UK
- Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research
- The charity’s groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives. This work is funded entirely by the public
- Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last thirty years
- Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of more than 4,800 scientists, doctors and nurses
- Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer
For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please visit www.cancerresearchuk.org
Medical Research Council
For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century.
For more information visit www.mrc.ac.uk