Is screening for breast cancer with mammography justifiable?

Lancet. 2000 Jan 8;355(9198):129-34. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(99)06065-1.


Background: A 1999 study found no decrease in breast-cancer mortality in Sweden, where screening has been recommended since 1985. We therefore reviewed the methodological quality of the mammography trials and an influential Swedish meta-analysis, and did a meta-analysis ourselves.

Methods: We searched the Cochrane Library for trials and asked the investigators for further details. Meta-analyses were done with Review Manager (version 4.0).

Findings: Baseline imbalances were shown for six of the eight identified trials, and inconsistencies in the number of women randomised were found in four. The two adequately randomised trials found no effect of screening on breast-cancer mortality (pooled relative risk 1.04 [95% CI 0.84-1.27]) or on total mortality (0.99 [0.94-1.05]). The pooled relative risk for breast-cancer mortality for the other trials was 0.75 (0.67-0.83), which was significantly different (p=0.005) from that for the unbiased trials. The Swedish meta-analysis showed a decrease in breast-cancer mortality but also an increase in total mortality (1.06 [1.04-1.08]); this increase disappeared after adjustment for an imbalance in age.

Interpretation: Screening for breast cancer with mammography is unjustified. If the Swedish trials are judged to be unbiased, the data show that for every 1000 women screened biennially throughout 12 years, one breast-cancer death is avoided whereas the total number of deaths is increased by six. If the Swedish trials (apart from the Malmö trial) are judged to be biased, there is no reliable evidence that screening decreases breast-cancer mortality.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Canada
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening*
  • Research Design
  • Survival Rate
  • Sweden