Significant improvement in survival from screen-detected breast cancer

Published 18th May, 2011

New figures released this week for women diagnosed with breast cancer detected through the NHS Breast Screening Programme (NHSBSP) show significant improvements in survival.

Big improvements in 5-year survival are reported for women with cancers that are the most advanced when discovered; 5-year survival has improved by 19 per cent between 1992/93 and 2002/03 (from 59 per cent to 78 per cent) for cancers in the poorest prognostic group (large, high grade and with disease spread to the lymph nodes).

Data for all women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer by the NHSBSP in 1992/93 indicate that 83 per cent are still alive 15 years after their diagnosis.

In the group of women who had small, low grade invasive cancers with no spread outside the breast (the excellent and good prognosis groups) over 90 per cent have survived for 15 years. Over half (58 per cent) of the women currently diagnosed by the NHSBSP would fit into these categories.

In 1992/93 the NHSBSP was in its infancy, with only women aged 50 - 64 years invited and most breast screening units having screened women on one occasion only. In that year, 5,573 cancers were detected, and it is likely that over half would have been treated by mastectomy.[1]

The report launched by the NHSBSP in collaboration with the Association of Breast Surgery (ABS) shows that:

  • In 2009/10, the NHSBSP screened 2,133,189 women aged 50 -70 years and found 17,013 cancers;
  • 80 per cent of these cancers were invasive, and 53 per cent of these cancers were small (less than 15mm in diameter);
  • For most women (78 per cent) the cancer had not spread beyond the breast to the lymph nodes, and 26 per cent were Grade 1.
  • Nearly three quarters of women did not have a mastectomy to treat their cancer (74 per cent).

ABS Breast Screening Audit 2009 - 2010

Professor Julietta Patnick CBE, Director of NHS Breast Screening Programme commented:

Since the Programme began in 1988, the NHSBSP has been an effective part of the UK's efforts to reduce the death toll from breast cancer. We welcome these statistics which show that around one in three breast cancers diagnosed in England is screen-detected and this proportion has been steadily increasing. We know that screen-detected cancer leads to improved chances of survival and so it's great for women that more cancers are being detected by screening. Indeed the extension of the NHSBSP to include women aged 47-73, which is currently being rolled out across England, will further increase the proportion of cancers that will be screen-detected.

Mr Neil Rothnie, Breast Surgeon and Chair of the Audit Steering Group commented:

Women with screen-detected breast cancers should be reassured by these excellent long term survival figures. Our unique National Screening Audit continues to show the high quality of care provided to women by breast specialists across the country.

Dr Gill Lawrence, Director of the West Midlands Cancer Intelligence Unit which co-ordinates the audit commented:

It is very pleasing to see the excellent long-term survival rates for women with invasive breast cancers detected through the UK NHSBSP. The steady increase in the number of women who have their breast cancers detected through the UK NHSBSP, means that more women than ever can expect to survive for 15 years or more because their cancers have been diagnosed at a very early stage. It is also gratifying to see the marked improvement in 5-year survival for women diagnosed with later stage disease. This is almost certainly due to the development and use of new therapies, which are bringing huge benefits to all women with breast cancer.

For further information, please contact the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes' press office on 020 7400 4499 or e-mail .

[1] Screening for Breast Cancer in England: Past And Future, NHSBSP, February 2006