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Health Science Technology

Hundreds Of Thousands Of People Have Been Saved Thanks To This Simple Advance In Medicine

Female breast cancer mortality rates in the United States increased by 0.4% per year from 1975 to 1990. Then, since 1990, breast cancer mortality rates have fallen between 1.8% and 3.4% per year. Why? Because of increased mammography screening and improved treatment. According to these statistics, less and less people are dying from breast cancer every year. The marvels of modern medicine have saved hundreds of thousands of American women over the past three decades.

Of course, this doesn’t mean the disease is not a serious life-threatening matter. It is still one of the most common cancers out there. This just shows that, through yearly checkups, there is a greater chance of survival so breast cancer doesn’t have to be the death sentence it once was. Mammogram screenings and modern breast cancer treatments are the reason that nearly half a million female deaths have been avoided since 1989. This statistic reinforces just how crucial early detection truly is.

R. Edward Hendrick, PhD, of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Jay Baker, MD, of Duke University Medical Center, and Mark Helvie, MD, of the University of Michigan Health System, analyzed breast cancer mortality data and female population data for U.S. women aged 40 to 84 years over the past three decades. That’s where these statistics come from. Their results are published online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

Hendrick says:

“Our study provides evidence of just how effective the combination of early detection and modern breast cancer treatment have been in averting breast cancer deaths.”


Breast imaging techniques were first developed in the 1960s. Ever since then, mammograms have become central to early detection. Today it is easier than ever before thanks to the advent of digital mammography. As a result, yearly breast screenings have become the most effective and affordable tool for detecting breast cancer in women over 40. When breast cancer is found before it spreads, the 5-year survival rate is 99 percent. Thus why so many women have been surviving in recent years compared to before mammograms, test screenings, and regular doctor checkups.

The Analysis

  • Researchers tracked the impact of this cancer over the past three decades.
  • They gathered and analyzed breast cancer mortality rates and female population data for American women between the ages of 40 and 84.
  • Data was collected for all the years since 1989, when screenings first became widespread.

The Numbers

  • Somewhere between 384,000 and 614,500 breast cancer deaths are thought to have been prevented.
    The increase is only gaining momentum.
  • Last year alone, an estimated 27,083 to 45,726 lives were saved from breast cancer. That means the expected mortality rate has decreased by 45 to 58 percent.

Cumulative breast cancer deaths averted, women ages 40-84, 1990-2018

Room For Improvement

Less than half of US women over 40 receive regular screenings as the medical guidelines suggest. Hendrick stresses:

“While we anticipate new scientific advances that will further reduce breast cancer deaths and morbidity, it is important that women continue to comply with existing screening and treatment recommendations… The best possible long-term effect of our findings would be to help women recognize that early detection and modern, personalized breast cancer treatment saves lives and to encourage more women to get screened annually starting at age 40.”

The Perfect Solution?

There have been some unfortunate incidents where screenings produced false-positive results and unnecessary biopsies were executed. But as Dr. Hendrick said:

“Recent reviews of mammography screening have focused media attention on some of the risks of mammography screening, such as call-backs for additional imaging and breast biopsies, downplaying the most important aspect of screening-that finding and treating breast cancer early saves women’s lives. Our study provides evidence of just how effective the combination of early detection and modern breast cancer treatment have been in averting breast cancer deaths.”

Therefore, even though there has been some negative news, overall the positive news is overwhelming in comparison. The massive amount of lives that have been saved by mammography and improvements in breast cancer treatment completely outweigh the few incorrect screenings. No matter what, even with an incorrect screening you’re still alive, but with no screening and undetected breast cancer you are dead.

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