"There are two issues here," Duffy said. "The first is that there is some evidence of a mortality benefit of screening women in their 40s, albeit a lesser one than in older women. The second is that our study does not relate to population screening, but to mammographic surveillance of women who [are concerned] about their family history of breast or ovarian cancer," he explained.
"This latter issue is less controversial," he added. "There is a debate in the U.K. about the age to start screening the general population, although there is less controversy about surveillance earlier in life for women with a family history of breast cancer."
The study, published online Nov. 18 in The Lancet Oncology, enrolled women from 76 health centers across 34 cancer research networks, 91 percent of whom were between the ages of 40 and 44 at the start. The women's average age was 42, and slightly less than half had a relative with breast cancer diagnosed at younger than age 40.
About 77 percent of the breast cancer cases diagnosed during the study were detected at screening, giving the early mammograms a 79 percent sensitivity rate. Researchers predicted an 81 percent average 10-year survival rate among participants, while survival rates for those in control groups were forecasted at no more than 73 percent.
Marc Schwartz, an associate professor of oncology at Georgetown University Medical Center, said the study is important because it examines a group at increased breast cancer risk for whom there are no tailored screening guidelines. Similarly, he said, this group's risk is not high enough to warrant the managemen
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