Breast cancer updates: Screening saves, and so does post-op radiation

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On the breast cancer front, new studies are promoting the use of two well known preventive measures. First, a large new Swedish study challenges recent assertions that the survival benefits from routine mammogram screenings are often outweighed by false positive results or other needless followup procedures. Published online in the journal Radiology, the randomized controlled study monitored 133,000 women for approximately 30 years to determine if mammography screening can improve patient mortality. Compared to unscreened patients, the screening group experienced a persistent and increased survival benefit, which rose to a maximum of 30 percent by the end of the study period. This survival benefit is considerable, and it seems clear from this landmark study that mammography not only diagnoses breast cancer but can also save lives, says ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

Meanwhile, a study published in the journal Cancer found that nearly half of women ages 66 and older who undergo a mastectomy are not receiving necessary post-operative radiation. Radiation therapy is a standard treatment intended to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer following surgery; several studies from the mid-1990s confirmed the benefit of radiation therapy on breast cancer outcomes for mastectomy patients. Yet researchers from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston reviewed data from 1996 to 2005 and found that, after 1998, the percentage of eligible women receiving radiation therapy had plateaued.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross expresses his disappointment with these doctors poor adherence to post-operative radiation therapy. There are, on average, 230,000 invasive breast cancer cases, plus the 38,000 in situ lesions, diagnosed in the U.S. each year. This adds up to about 6 million women who have had breast cancer surgery over the past 30 years, minus those who are no longer with us. The lack of compliance to the standard post-operative radiation therapy is unacceptable!