Survivors Need Ongoing, Long-Term Screening

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Women who've been diagnosed with breast cancer are at risk for the cancer coming back (recurrence) and also have a higher-than-average risk of being diagnosed with a new, second breast cancer. So regular breast cancer screening is very important for survivors.

To find out if doctors were recommending breast cancer screening to survivors, researchers surveyed British physicians who care for women diagnosed with breast cancer. The researchers also reviewed the results of eight studies on the benefits of ongoing breast cancer screening for survivors.

The results:

  • Doctors didn't consistently recommend ongoing, long-term breast cancer screening for survivors.
  • Ongoing, long-term screening for survivors is lifesaving: women who were screened consistently for 10 years or more were 72% less likely to die from recurrent or new breast cancer compared to women who didn't get consistent, long-term screening.
  • The risk of a recurrence or a new, second breast cancer was about the same during each of the 10 years after diagnosis. Most people think that if breast cancer is going to come back or a new cancer to develop, it will be in the first 2 or 3 years after diagnosis -- this study found that isn't the case.

The results were published in the September 2011 issue of Health Technology Assessment.

These results underscore the importance of long-term, regular screening mammograms for survivors. Still, other research has shown that mammograms alone can be less effective at detecting breast cancer in women with a personal history of breast cancer. Survivors may benefit from other screening tests -- such as breast MRI or breast ultrasound -- in addition to screening mammograms. Some experts think that screening with 3-D mammograms also may be especially useful for survivors. The FDA has approved a 3-D mammogram system, but the technology may not be widely available.

If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, you and your doctor should develop a screening plan tailored to your unique situation. If the plan includes only regular mammograms, you may want to ask your doctor if breast MRI or ultrasound along with mammograms might make sense for you. No matter what your screening plan includes, be sure to stick with it over the long term, not just in the first few years after you've finished treatment.

You can learn more about mammograms and other breast cancer screening tests in the Breastcancer.org Screening and Testing section.

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