BREAST cancer screening has had little impact on falling death rates from the disease, according to new research.
Experts compared data from three pairs of European countries and found the countries within each pair experienced a similar fall in death rates.
This was despite a gap of 10 to 15 years between the countries in implementing a breast cancer screening programme.
Northern Ireland was compared with the Republic of Ireland, while the Netherlands was compared with Belgium and Flanders, and Sweden with Norway.
From 1989 to 2006, deaths from breast cancer decreased by 29pc in Northern Ireland and by 26pc in the Republic of Ireland, according to the study, published in the British Medical Journal.
Deaths also fell by 25pc in the Netherlands and by 20pc in Belgium and 25pc in Flanders. Swedish deaths were down 16pc compared to 24pc in Norway.
The researchers, who analysed data on deaths from the World Health Organisation, concluded: "Countries of each pair had similar healthcare services and prevalence of risk factors for breast cancer mortality but differing implementation of mammography screening, with a gap of about 10 to 15 years.
"The contrast between the time differences in implementation of mammography screening and the similarity in reductions in mortality between the country pairs suggest that screening did not play a direct part in the reductions in breast cancer mortality."
The study was led by a team of researchers from France, the UK and Norway.
They suggested better treatments and improving health systems were more likely to have contributed to falling death rates than screening.
Overall, death rates appeared to have fallen in countries where women had been screened for a considerable time but also in those where women were largely unscreened during the same period.
Women in the UK are invited for screening between the ages of 50 and 70.
The programme in England is currently being extended to include those aged 47 to 73.