For the study, researchers used a computer model to estimate the effects of different scenarios: screening for cancer annually at ages 40 to 84 years, screening annually 45 to 54 years (the current recommendation), and biennial screening at ages 55 to 79 years, and biennial screening at ages 50 to 74 years.
Their research found that screening for cancer beginning at age 40 could cause an almost 40% reduction in deaths due to breast cancer, compared with 23% to 31% reductions with other recommendations.
"Our findings are important and novel because this is the first time the three most widely discussed recommendations for screening mammography have been compared head to head," Elizabeth Kagan Arleo, MD, the study's lead researcher, said in a statement to Refinery29. "Our research would be put to good use if, because of our findings, women chose to start annual screening mammography starting at age 40. Over the long term, this would be significant because fewer women would die from breast cancer."
"Women and their physicians can use these findings to guide choices of when a woman begins screening mammography and how often she gets screened," R. Edward Hendrick, PhD, another researcher who worked on the study, added.
The results were particularly interesting in light of a new preliminary blood test that purports to be able to detect breast cancer (amongst other forms of cancer) before symptoms even appear. Of course, that limited test is still in its early days, and more work will have to be done before it's fully successful, but both studies have broad implications that favor screening for cancer earlier, rather than later.
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