Women urged to take up BreastScreen

BreastScreen: woman in pink top holds pink ribbon

Cancer Council is encouraging more Australian women aged 50 to 74 to consider participating in the free BreastScreen program, following a major new international data analysis that showed the lifesaving benefits of mammography screening outweighed the harms of over-diagnosis at a population level.

Cancer Council welcomed the new analysis of major studies conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which concluded that screening mammography delivered a net public health benefit.

Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Screening and Immunisation Committee, Associate Professor Karen Canfell, says that while the lifesaving benefits of mammography have been well-documented, there has been an ongoing debate about the harms of false-positive screening results and over-treatment.

“The analysis of data from about 20 cohort and 20 case–control studies conducted in Australia, Europe and North America showed a mortality benefit of around 40% for women aged 50 to 69 who underwent mammography screening,” A/Prof Canfell says.

“There was also evidence of the mortality benefit extending to women aged 70 to 74 years.

“These finding confirm the role of breast cancer screening in saving lives. Applied to Australia, it is clear that a substantial number of Australian women are alive today because an early-stage breast cancer was detected through the BreastScreen Australia program.”

A/Prof Canfell says one of the challenges of mammography screening is that some women would be diagnosed with, and treated for, breast cancers that would not have caused them harm.

“Our view is that the significant lifesaving benefits of mammography, when balanced against the risks of over-diagnosis and over-treatment, support the need for BreastScreen Australia and the case for increased participation in the program,” she says.

“The analysis published today, by the world’s most senior cancer researchers, supports our position and further highlights the benefits of two-yearly screening mammography for women aged 50 to 74.

“No screening program is perfect, and there are risks as well as benefits. So it is important that women are informed of the benefits and the risks before agreeing to participate in the program.”

A/Prof Canfell says only around 55% of eligible Australian women currently participate in the BreastScreen Australia program and that many more lives could be saved if more eligible women underwent their free biennial mammogram.

“More screening would result in the detection of more early-stage breast cancers and the application of lifesaving early treatment interventions,” she says.

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1 Comment

  1. elizabeth52

    There has been some criticism of this body for bowing to industry influence and pressure and for their lack of transparency. It always seems to be the same names and bodies desperately trying to protect screening. (not women)
    I wouldn’t accept a word of it, the best information, in my opinion, is found on the website of the Nordic Cochrane Institute, an INDEPENDENT, not for profit, medical research group. The evidence is not good, about 50% of screen detected breast cancers are over-diagnosed and any benefit of screening is wiped away when you consider those who die from cancers and heart attacks following treatments. So the risks of screening exceeds any benefit.
    I’ve made an informed decision not to have breast screening.

    Sadly, there are powerful vested interests in women’s cancer screening and they’ll do all they can to keep the screening cash cows (and excess) in place; be very careful accepting recommendations to screen, do some research and make an informed decision. (and yes, we can say NO)

    It’s also, concerning that Breast Screen are still using celebrity endorsement to promote breast screening, do they even have a shred of respect for informed consent? More needs to be done to pull women’s cancer screening into line, proper ethical standards and the law (informed consent) matter for men AND for women.
    Our cervical screening program is horribly excessive and results in our huge colposcopy/excess biopsy/over-treatment rates – almost all of this damage was avoidable with evidence based screening and informed consent. Our new program is likely to be 5 HPV primary tests from 25 to 72 or 74, so once again, we’ll ignore the evidence and side with excess. HPV self testing will be locked away until women reject the invasive HPV test for 6 years. (you can order it online though or buy it through your GP – ask for the Delphi Screener)
    Consider the new Dutch program that puts women and the evidence first – 5 HPV primary tests or self testing at ages 30,35,40,50 and 60 and a 5 yearly pap test will ONLY the offered to the roughly 5% who test HPV+. This program will save more lives and takes most women out of pap testing and harms way.

    We’ll be doing HPV testing on women at age 25 that means about 40% will be HPV+, transient and harmless infections that would clear naturally, by age 30 only about 5% of women will be HPV+
    I fear our young women will again suffer under our new program. The Finns and Dutch have always protected their young women, no pap testing or HPV testing before age 30. HPV Today, Edition 24, sets out the new Dutch program.
    Not one country in the world has shown a benefit doing pap testing on those under 30, despite decades of pap testing, but young women produce the most false positives, which can lead to over-treatment and excess biopsies. It’s harm/risk for no benefit. Now we know that only about 5% of women can benefit from a 5 yearly pap test, those aged 30 to 60 and HPV+
    I’ve never taken part in the excessive Australian program, an informed decision. (and won’t be taking part in the new excessive program either, it might suit some, but it’s not a good deal for women)

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