Women who take part in breast examinations have a significantly greater benefit from treatments than those who are not screened, a study found.
A study conducted by Queen Mary University in London found that women who chose to participate in an organized breast cancer screening program had a 60% lower risk of dying from the disease within 10 years of diagnosis.
They had a 47% lower risk of dying from breast cancer within 20 years of diagnosis, according to the study of more than 50,000 women.
The researchers said that this benefit comes from the fact that the screening proves cancer at an earlier stage and therefore much better respond to the treatment.
The study, which used data from Sweden, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer of the American Cancer Society.
Mammography screening is offered to all women aged 50 to 70 in the UK through the NHS Breast Screening Program. The participation rates are on average over 70% – but vary dramatically throughout the country and in poorer inner cities.
Lead author Professor Stephen Duffy of Queen Mary University, London said: "Recent improvements in treatments have reduced the number of deaths from breast cancer.
"However, these new results show the crucial role that screening also needs to play, so that women can benefit much more from modern treatments.
"We need to ensure that participation in breast screening programs is improved, especially in socio-economically disadvantaged areas."
Rachel Rawson, a clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said: "This groundbreaking study strongly emphasizes that screening for many women means longer life, as treatment becomes more effective the sooner breast cancer is detected.
"The shocking shortcomings that were uncovered at the beginning of the year when issuing invitations must not happen again.
"Breast cancer diagnosis is incredibly traumatic. Early detection can lead to treatments with fewer long-term side effects that help many women get rid of this devastating disease faster and master their daily lives.
"It is important that every eligible woman can count on the opportunity to participate in a screening, and the over-70s must be informed that they can request mammograms if they wish. Empowering women to make the right health decisions for them with clear, balanced information should be a top priority. "