Does breast screening save lives?

The Department of Health's Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer [PDF 1Mb], published January 2011, recognised that cancer screening was an important way to detect cancer early and that around a third of breast cancers are now diagnosed through screening.

Between 1 April 2009 and 31 March 2010, 2,133,189 women were screened by the NHSBSP in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and 17,013 cancers were detected in women of all ages.1

5-year relative survival for women with screen-detected invasive breast cancer improved significantly from 93.5 per cent in 1992/93 to 97.1 per cent in 2002/031

In 2010, research undertaken by Stephen Duffy and others (PDF 206Kb) demonstrated that the benefit of mammographic screening in terms of lives saved was greater than the harm in terms of overdiagnosis. Between 2 and 2.5 lives are saved for every overdiagnosed case.

In 2010, drawing on evidence from trends in population based mortality rates, Beral and Peto argued that
"In the UK, breast cancers are diagnosed earlier and treated more effectively than they were in the 1980s, and breast cancer mortality in middle age has been falling steeply, more so than in any other major European country"2

[1] Association of Breast Surgery (ABS) Breast Screening Audit 2009 - 2010
[2] Beral Peto BMJ. 2010 Aug 11;341:c4112. doi: 10.1136/bmj.c4112.