Breast cancer screening has had little impact on falling death rates from the disease, new research indicates.
Comparing data from three pairs of European countries showed that countries within each pair experienced a similar fall in death rates – despite a gap of 10 -15 years between the countries' implementing a screening programme.
Northern Ireland was compared with the Irish Republic, the Netherlands with Belgium and Flanders, and Sweden with Norway.
From 1989 to 2006 deaths from breast cancer decreased by 29 per cent in Northern Ireland and by 26 per cent in the Republic of Ireland, according to the study, which was published in the British Medical Journal, in which researchers from France the UK and Norway analysed data from the World Health Organisation.
They suggested that better treatments and improving health systems were more likely to have contributed to falling death rates than screening.
Women in the UK are invited for routine screening between the ages of 50 and 70 and can request screening at three-yearly intervals after that. The programme in England is currently being extended to include those aged 47 to 73.