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Breast cancer: study claiming that screening women in their 40s saves lives “found the opposite,” say critics

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 13 August 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3191
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. London

Reducing the lower age limit for breast cancer screening from 50 to 40 “can save lives” with minimal increased overdiagnosis, claim researchers reporting the final results of the UK Age trial. However, some experts describe the claim as misleading rhetoric and argue that major improvements in treatment have occurred since the trial began.

The study, published in Lancet Oncology,1 recruited 160 921 women aged 39-41 from 1990 to 1997 and randomly assigned them either to annual mammograms until age 48 or to standard care, meaning no screening until invited onto the NHS breast screening programme at age 50.1

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme, and the primary outcome was mortality from breast cancers diagnosed before the woman’s first NHS breast screen.

Follow-up findings

Screening was carried out at 23 breast screening units in Great Britain, and the women were followed up for a median of 22.8 years. At 10 years’ follow-up the study found 83 breast …

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