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The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"Overall, death rates have been reduced by 21% due to screening programmes"
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Institute of Cancer Research, Roger Blanks
"We predict the screening programme will meet its target- a 25% reduction in breast cancer mortality"
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Cancer screening test co-ordinator, Juiletta Patnick
"The target will take some time to reach"
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Friday, 15 September, 2000, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Breast screening 'does save lives'

Breast screening detects cancers early
Breast cancer screening in the UK played its part in a 21% fall in deaths from the disease during the 1990s, say researchers.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, is the first direct statistical evidence of the effects that breast cancer screening has had.

It is now reckoned to be preventing at least 300 deaths a year.

The research will come as a boost to the programme which is extending the service to women between 65 and 70 years old - despite critics saying the money could be better spent on treatment.

In all, there has been a fall of as much as 21% in breast cancer mortality between 1990 and 1998.

The researchers estimate that 6.4% - nearly a third - were saved by the breast screening programme.

However, perhaps the most telling contribution has been made by the drug tamoxifen, which is given to women after breast cancer surgery to prevent recurrence of the disease.

1,000 die a month

More than 35,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer every year - two thirds are alive five years on, although 1,000 die every month from the disease.

Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research, assisted by the Office of National Statistics, predicted the level of mortality if screening had not been introduced in 1988.

Although a target of a 25% reduction in mortality has not yet been demonstrated, scientists predict that further drops in mortality figures should be expected in coming years.

There have always been those who argue that the money spent on screening might save more lives if spent on other services for cancer patients.

A study published in the Lancet medical journal earlier this year claimed that breast screening was a "waste of time", although this was condemned by many clinicians in the UK.

Delyth Morgan, chief executive of charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "We are delighted that we are now starting to see the benefits of the NHS Breast Screening Programme.

"Women can now feel confident that their time and NHS resources are being used well.

"Prompt treatment is vital to give the best chances of survival - and the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the earlier it can be treated."

Julietta Patnick, National Co-ordinator of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said: "This research confirms that we are on the way to a 25% reduction in mortality from breast cancer, and we are confident that we will reach our target

"We always knew it would take time. It is taking longer than we expected. All breast screening programmes around the world are finding this. .

"Indeed, we are now detecting more small cancers than ever before - cancers impossible to feel with the human hand.

"This makes earlier and less drastic treatment possible, and gives women a greater chance of survival.

"We are proud of the breast screening programme and it's international reputation, and are looking forward to extending the invitations for screening to 65-70 year old women."

Yvette Cooper, the government's Minister for Public Health said: "We are confident that the number of lives saved by breast screening will continue to rise sharply in the near future."

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