Benefits and harms of breast cancer screening in women aged 40-49 years

Early detection of breast cancer through screening can lower breast cancer mortality rates and reduce the burden of this disease in the population | International Journal of Cancer

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In most western countries, mammography screening starting from age 50 is recommended. However, there is debate about whether breast cancer screening should be extended to younger women. This systematic review provides an overview of the evidence from RCT’s on the benefits and harms of breast cancer screening with mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years. The quality of the evidence for each outcome was appraised using the GRADE approach.

Four articles reporting on two different trials, the Age trial and the Canadian National Breast Screening Study-I (CNBSS-I), were included. The results showed no significant effect on breast cancer mortality (Age trial: RR 0.93, 95% CI 0.80-1.09; CNBSS-I: HR 1.10 (95% CI 0.86-1.40) nor on all-cause mortality (RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.93-1.03) in women aged 40 to 49 years offered screening. Among regularly attending women the cumulative risk of experiencing a false-positive recall was 20.5%. Overdiagnosis of invasive breast cancer at five years post cessation of screening for women aged 40to 49 years was estimated to be 32%; 20 years post cessation of screening 48%. Including ductal carcinoma in situ, these numbers were 41% and 55%.

Based on the current evidence from randomised trials, extending mammography screening to younger age groups cannot be recommended. However there were limitations including relatively low sensitivity of screening and screening attendance, insufficient power, and contamination, which may explain the non-significant results.

Full reference: van den Ende, C. et al. (2017) Benefits and harms of breast cancer screening with mammography in women aged 40-49 years: A systematic review. International Journal of Cancer. DOI: 10.1002/ijc.30794

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