Screening women for breast cancer from their 40s rather than their 50s could save lives without adding to the diagnosis of harmless cancers, a study published in the Lancet Oncology has suggested.
The research, based on 160,000 women from England, Scotland and Wales, followed up for around 23 years, found that lowering the screening age could save one life per 1000 women checked.
However, experts caution warn are many other considerations, including cost.
According to Cancer Research UK, it is still not clear if reducing the breast screening age would give any additional benefit compared to the UK’s existing screening programme.
The charity says the priority should be getting cancer services back on track for women aged 50-70, after disruption caused by the pandemic. During lockdown, cancer screening programmes which detect early signs of bowel, breast and cervical cancer were paused in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, although not officially stopped in England.
‘Many women received false positive results and some women would have been over-diagnosed with cancers that would never have gone on to cause them harm,’ said
Sophia Lowes, health information manager at Cancer Research UK.
‘While research into improving our screening programmes remains vital, screening programmes are already under huge strain due to the pandemic, and the priority right now should be getting services back on track for women aged 50-70.’
Currently in the UK, women between the ages of 50 and 70 are invited to be screened for breast cancer every three years. Women below 50 are not routinely offered this because their risk of breast cancer is generally very low and their breast tissue is more dense, making it difficult to read the results of mammography tests used to spot cancers.