A new study published in Cancer and touted by the American College of Radiology (ACR) debunks claims that mammography screening is not a primary factor in plummeting breast cancer deaths and reinforces the long-proven fact that mammography saves lives, ACR officials say.

Specifically, the study, conducted by László Tabár, MD, FACR, and a team of researchers,  showed that women screened regularly for breast cancer have a 47% lower risk of dying from the disease within 20 years of diagnosis than those not regularly screened. Moreover, 95% percent of all breast cancer deaths occur within 20 years of diagnosis.

“The Tabar study shows beyond doubt that therapy is far more effective when breast cancers are found earlier via mammography. Screening and therapy work hand in hand. Annual screening starting at age 40 and therapy are vital to saving the most lives,” says Dana Smetherman, MD, chair of the American College of Radiology Breast Imaging Commission.

National Cancer Institute SEER Data show that since regular mammography use started in the 1980s, breast cancer deaths in women have fallen 43%. Breast cancers deaths in men—who are not screened, but get the same treatment as women—have remained virtually unchanged. Tabar’s results are also on par with large studies showing that regular mammography use cuts the risk of dying from breast cancer nearly in half. Early detection via mammography also enables women to be treated with less extensive surgery, fewer mastectomies and less chemotherapy, ACR officials say in a statement.

“The conclusion of this study could not be more clear— modern treatments are important but not solely sufficient. Women who get regular screening mammograms cut their risk of dying of breast cancer by about half,” says Jay Baker, MD, president of the Society of Breast Imaging.

The ACR and the Society of Breast imaging continue to recommend that women start getting annual mammograms at age 40 and continue as long as they are in good health. The ACR also advises women to have a risk assessment by the age of 30 to see if earlier screening is right for them.