Screening for breast cancer mammography benefits

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Benefits or risks of mammography screening?

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection commissioned the University of Münster to conduct a research project starting in July this year to examine how useful breast cancer screening is for women as part of the preventive medical check-ups. Scientists have been arguing about the meaning and nonsense of the German mammography screening program for years. A Norwegian study suggests that the radiation exposure does more harm than good, at least for young women.

Mammography for women over 50
As part of the research project, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection has experts from university medicine in Münster examine whether the mammography check-up reduces the mortality rate of women if breast cancer can be detected at an early stage. Since 2009, women aged 50 to 69 have had mammography performed every two years. However, the examined persons also exposed themselves to a not insignificant radiation exposure, in which the cells can also be damaged.
The screening program was launched to reduce the mortality rate of the named age groups. That project is now to be examined in more detail. “In this long-term study, the University of Münster will scientifically analyze whether this goal will be achieved. The benefits of the program must be greater than the possible risks, ”emphasized Wolfgang Weiss, head of the BfS department. Because every examination is "associated with an additional radiation exposure," says Weiss. The study is therefore intended to find out whether breast cancer mortality actually decreases and whether illnesses due to radiation exposure do not increase disproportionately significantly.

No reliable studies in Germany yet
To date, no studies on the program have been carried out in Germany, which is why it is unclear whether and to what extent breast cancer mortality is reduced at all. However, international studies indicate that there is "benefit of the breast cancer screening program for women aged 50 to 69". Nevertheless, numerous researchers have doubts whether a risk-benefit assessment also leads to a positive result. According to the Federal Office, international studies had shown that the benefit "clearly outweighs the radiation risk in this age group". This is why Germany introduced mammography breast cancer screening in 2009. However, it had been shown that the risk of radiation predominates in young women, which is why such screening is only carried out for women over 50. In addition, the risk of breast cancer is lower in younger women, which is why such examinations “are not carried out across the board, but only if there is reasonable suspicion,” explains Weiss.

Critics say that breast cancer screening is often wrong. A Norwegian study also showed that four out of 1,000 women who go for radiation examinations die of breast cancer. Out of 1,000 women who do not go to screening, five die from breast cancer. Accordingly, only one woman in 1000 can be saved from dying from breast cancer if she takes part in the preventive medical check-up. As such, this low rate is not a major point of criticism, but it shows the likely low benefit. During screening examinations, it also happens again and again that radiologists or gynecologists discover abnormalities even in actually healthy women. Then further stressful examinations and sometimes even operations are carried out that would actually be completely unnecessary. In this way, the researchers determined that the tumor in around 20 percent of the operated people would never have had any adverse health effects. A Dutch study found that screening lowers breast cancer mortality by 31 percent.

First research results in seven years
Whether breast cancer mortality can actually be reduced requires a "research phase of at least ten years". In the first two years, the experts at the University of Münster want to clarify how the effects of mammography can be recorded at all. Only then does the actual study take place. The Federal Office for Radiation Protection expects the first results in about seven years. The study is supported by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, the Federal Ministry of Health and the cooperation group mammography.

Breast cancer most common cancer in women
Every year, around 72,000 women in Germany develop breast cancer. With a share of 32 percent, the tumor disease is one of the most common new cancer diseases among women. According to the statistics, every eighth woman falls ill with a tumor in the breast in the course of her life. Although the rate of new breast cancer has been increasing for years, this is primarily due to demographic change, because the rise in life expectancy also increases the incidence of malignant tumors. Germany has the highest breast cancer death rate in Europe. (sb)

Read about breast cancer screening:
Breast cancer screening is often wrong
Mammography screening lowers breast cancer death rate
Germany has the highest breast cancer death rate
Breast cancer: Good care in breast centers
Herbal agents against breast cancer
Hormones can cause breast cancer

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Video: Breast Cancer Screening - the importance of mammography

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