Background: More than a decade ago, a mammography screening programme for women aged 50-69 years was initiated in the Netherlands. Our aim was to assess the effect of this programme on breast-cancer mortality rates.
Methods: We examined data for 27948 women who died of breast-cancer aged 55-74 years between 1980 and 1999 (30560 cases until 2001). We grouped individuals into 93 clusters, depending on where they lived, and analysed data by use of national population statistics. We analysed time trends in breast-cancer mortality, adjusting for gradual implementations at municipality level, taking as year 0 the month and year in which screening began in a particular municipality. We used a Poisson regression model to estimate the time at which the trend started to turn. We assessed indirectly whether this turning point was related to initiation of screening or adjuvant systemic therapy in four clusters defined according to when screening was implemented.
Findings: Compared with rates in 1986-88, breast-cancer mortality rates in women aged 55-74 years fell significantly in 1997 and subsequent years as predicted, reaching -19.9% in 2001. Mortality rates had been increasing by an annual 0.3% until screening was introduced; thereafter we noted a decline of 1.7% per year (95% CI 2.39-0.96) in women aged 55-74 years and of 1.2% in those aged 45-54 (2.40 to 0.07). The turning point in mortality trends arose at around year 0. Adjuvant systemic therapy is unlikely to be the cause of this turning point, since the mortality rates continued to rise up to 1 year after implementation in municipalities where screening began after 1995.
Interpretation: Routine mammography screening can reduce breast-cancer mortality rates in women aged 55-74 years.