Early Detection

Published January 1, 2005

Women with breast cancer detected early because they had a mammogram screening have a lower risk of tumors returning than women who chose to delay the mammogram or ignore its results. That’s the latest word from the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers analyzed data from 1,918 women diagnosed with breast cancer. After 10 years, 92 percent of women with the smallest tumors detected early with mammography were alive and disease-free, compared with 85 percent of women with cancer tumors found later rather than earlier.

Women with cancer detected during a manual exam or because of symptoms were 90 percent more likely to have the cancer return within 10 years, taking into account the size and type of the tumor and whether it had spread, the study found.

In addition, tumors spotted during a mammogram may be slower to develop, making them less likely to cause serious health problems, the researchers said. The better outcomes tied to mammogram detection of breast cancer remained even after the researchers took into account the number of lymph nodes affected, the woman’s age, and the size and grade of the tumor.

Among women with the largest tumors, 1.2 inches or more, 75 percent survived without the disease recurring for a decade only if they were diagnosed after a mammogram. This is compared with 50 percent of those women diagnosed later and without mammogram screening.

IT’S YOUR HEALTH is written by Conrad Meier, senior fellow in health policy at The Heartland Institute. This program is produced as a public service by Radio America. Meier passed away unexpectedly on March 18, 2005.