Mammograms save Kiwi lives – it’s official 

December 14th 2015

The NZ Breast Cancer Foundation says new research released today by BreastScreen Aotearoa should give Kiwi women confidence that our mammogram screening programme is the best way to find breast cancer early and to save lives.

The report, Cohort and Case Control Analyses of Breast Cancer Mortality: BreastScreen Aotearoa, 1999-2011, showed that women who have regular mammograms have a 39% lower breast cancer mortality than women who have never screened (at the current BSA national participation level of 71%).

Perhaps even more significantly, the BSA data showed that among women diagnosed with breast cancer, those whose cancer was detected on a screening mammogram had a 45% lower death rate than those with cancer detected outside screening (non-screened detection is most commonly through a woman “finding a lump”).

“It’s time for all those people who have sought to undermine our valuable breast screening programme to finally shut up,” said Evangelia Henderson, chief executive of the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation. “BSA does an amazing job, and it’s very frustrating when irrelevant overseas studies, particularly from countries like America, which simply doesn’t have a national, coordinated screening programme, are used to claim that mammograms aren’t effective. Mammograms save many lives, and it’s great to at last have national mortality figures to back up what we know from the regional breast cancer patient registers.” The NZBCF funds patient registers in Auckland, Waikato, Wellington and Christchurch that track treatment and outcomes for all breast cancers in those regions.

The BSA study also showed that breast cancers found on a mammogram are likely to be smaller and less advanced, which often makes them easier to treat, again backing up the data from the breast cancer patient registers.

“If you want to give yourself the best chance of finding breast cancer early and surviving it, sign up with BreastScreen Aotearoa and have regular mammograms,” said Mrs Henderson. The NZBCF is about to petition Parliament to extend free screening to age 74, up from the current limit of 69, as studies show that the same screening benefits apply to women in their early seventies.

The NZBCF recommends that women consider annual mammograms from age 40-49, then have two-yearly mammograms from age 50. All women over 20 should know the normal look and feel of their breasts, so they can report any changes to their doctor. For more information about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, visit www.anychanges.co.nz.

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