Breast screening is saving lives

Media release

14 December 2015

A major new study confirms that New Zealand’s organised breast screening programme, BreastScreen Aotearoa (BSA) is reducing deaths from breast cancer.

BSA Clinical Leader, Dr Marli Gregory, says the study concludes that for women who have ever been screened by BSA, the rate of death from breast cancer is reduced by a third, compared to women never screened by the programme. 

For women who take part in regular BSA screening, there is an even greater reduction in breast cancer death rate. The findings of this study are in line with mortality studies of breast screening programmes internationally.

Dr Gregory says Maori women have a higher rate of developing breast cancer, and a higher rate of death from breast cancer, than other New Zealand women. 

The participation rate for Mâori women taking part in the breast screening programme remains lower than for other New Zealand women. 

 “However, this study confirms that if we can achieve the same participation rates for Mâori women as for the rest of the population, we would see similar reductions in the rate of deaths from breast cancer. This is why it is important for Maori women to take part in organised breast screening,” Dr Gregory says.

BSA encourages women aged 45-69 to screen regularly to continue to reduce the rate of death from breast cancer for New Zealand women. 

The National Screening Unit commissioned the University of New South Wales to undertake the mortality evaluation. The researchers have extensive experience in high profile cancer epidemiology projects in Australia and internationally, and have been involved in mortality evaluations for breast screening programmes in Australia. 

Researcher Professor David Roder, from the University of South Australia says: “This study shows that New Zealand’s organised breast screening programme has been associated with clear and significant reductions in breast cancer deaths in New Zealand women.”

The final report has been peer reviewed by international expert, Professor Stephen Duffy, who is the Professor of Cancer Screening at the Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine, in the United Kingdom.

Key facts 

Results were adjusted for screening selection bias, age and ethnicity. Among New Zealand women who had ever been screened in the BSA programme:

  • There was a 34% reduction in the rate of death from breast cancer among all women who were screened, compared to those who had never been screened. This was calculated for the current coverage (participation) rate of 71%.
  • There was a 28% reduction in the rate of death from breast cancer among Mâori women who were screened, compared to those who have never been screened. This was calculated for the current coverage rate of 65%. 
  • At the target coverage rate of 70%, it is projected that for Mâori women the reduction would be 32%.
  • There was a 40% reduction in breast cancer mortality for Pacific women who were screened compared to those who had never been screened, calculated at the current coverage of 72%. 

BSA started screening eligible women aged 50-64 in December 1998 after two successful pilots. In 2004, the eligible age range was extended to 45-69 years.

More information

You can access the full study on the National Screening Unit website.

Back to top