Breast screening detected a significantly higher number of cancers last year, official figures show.
Early diagnosis aids survival
Figures for 2002-03 show that the number of breast cancers detected by screening went up by more than 13% from the previous year.
Detection rates have been steadily increasing for the last five years.
It is believed that the increase is in large part due to the introduction of more advanced screening technology called two-view mammography.
This involves taking two x-ray views of each breast at the screening appointment - one from above and one into the armpit diagonally across the breast.
Number of cancers detected:
1998/99 - 7,561
1999/00 - 8,215
2000/01 - 8,345
2001/02 - 8,545
2002/03 - 9,848
Research has shown that this technique can increase the detection rate of small cancers by 42%.
In December 2003, 86% of local screening services were doing two-view mammographies.
Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson said: "Early detection and treatment is vital in the fight against cancer.
"Last year 1.3m women of all ages were screened and over 13% more cancers were detected than in the previous year.
"Over 50% of these were small cancers which may not have been found by self examination or GPs.
"These figures provide further evidence of how important it is that women take up their invitation for breast screening."
Andrew Lansley, a Tory health spokesman, said the figures also revealed that the number of women who had been screened at least once in the previous year years had dipped slightly.
He also pointed out that during 2002-03 some 13 fewer primary care trusts had managed to achieve a breast screening coverage rate of at least 70% than in the previous year.
And coverage fell below 60% in six more PCTs than in the previous 12-month period.
He said: "We hope that the statistics are not the start of a slippery slope.
"The Department of Health must not allow the PCTs with good records to rest on their laurels nor should they allow failing PCTs to hide behind the good practice of others."