Feature: Mammography can 'boost breast cancer prognosis'

27 February 2012

Middle-aged women have a greater chance of recovering from breast cancer if the disease is detected by mammography technology.

This is the result of research conducted by a group of researchers at the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, which monitored the condition in a group of women aged between 40 and 49 years old.

Following the tracking of 1,977 breast cancer patients, it was determined that mammography has a better prognosis rate than other forms of detecting the disease.

In order to determine such a finding, the Canadian-based researchers monitored breast cancer cases between females aged from 40 to 49 years old between 1990 and 2008.

The three main forms of breast cancer detection - mammography, the patient and the physician - were also studied, as well as the stage of detection, the subsequent treatment and data gained from yearly follow-up checks.

Once all of this information was compiled together, it was highlighted that mammography accounted for 58 per cent of all breast cancer detections in 2008 - up considerably from 28 per cent of cases back in 1990.

Furthermore, Dr Judith A Malmgren, the president of HealthStat Consulting, was keen to point out: "In our study, women aged 40 to 49 whose breast cancer was detected by mammography were easier to treat and had less recurring disease and mortality, because their cancer was found at an earlier stage."

In fact, in 2008 - when mammography accounted for the majority of breast cancer detections - the number of cases diagnosed at Stage 0 increased by 66 per cent.

At the same time, the later Stage III breast cancer cases dropped by the same percentage, while 2008 also saw patient- and physician-detected instances falling to 42 per cent, having been at 73 per cent 18 years prior.

"The shift toward more mammography-detected breast cancer cases was accompanied by a shift toward diagnosis at an earlier stage of disease that required less treatment," Dr Malmgren added.

Another positive sign that has come from the increased use of mammography is the fact that the technology meant that most patients required less treatment in their path to recovery.

For one, women going down the mammography route were less likely to have to undergo chemotherapy and were at an increased chance of undergoing breast-conserving treatment compared to those who had the disease detected either through their own analysis or that of a physician.

Commenting on this particular finding, Dr Malmgren acknowledged: "The benefits of breast cancer treatment are accompanied by significant harms. Chemotherapy may have long-lasting toxic effects on a woman's body, and mastectomy and reconstructive surgery are difficult and expensive operations that can have a significant effect on body image."

With breast cancer affecting more than 48,000 people in 2008 alone and over 11,000 individuals dying as a result of the disease the following year, many institutes are hoping to find new breakthroughs for detecting and treating it.

For one, a team of scientists at Cardiff University and King's College London disclosed earlier this month that zinc could act as new ammunition in the fight against breast cancer.

Dr Kathryn Taylor, from the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences of Cardiff University, stated: "We know that zinc, in the right quantities, is vital for development, our immune systems and many other aspects of human health.

"But when something goes wrong with the body's zinc delivery system, it looks as though disease can result. In particular, our research has shown a link to highly aggressive forms of breast cancer."

And although mammography was found to be the most useful way of detecting breast cancer, Nina Barough, founder and chief executive of Walk the Walk Worldwide, acknowledged that there are signs of the disease which can be detected just by the naked eye.

"It can be a change of tissue, a change in how they feel, a change in the density of them. If you do have any doubts, I would always recommend - go and pester your doctor," the expert said.

Posted by Philip Briggs

Malmgren, Judith. 'Impact of Mammography Detection on the Course of Breast Cancer in Women Aged 40 Years'. Radiology. 22 February 2012.

Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.

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