Trends in the incidence of and mortality from breast cancer result from a variety of influences including screening programmes, such as those introduced in several European countries in the late 1980s. Incidence and mortality rates for 16 European countries are analysed. Incidence increased in all countries. The estimated annual percent change (EAPC) varied from 0.8 to 2.8% in prescreening years in 6 'screened' countries and from 1.2 to 3.0% in 10 'non-screened' countries. Screening related temporary increases were visible. Earlier mortality trends were maintained in the most recent decade in Estonia (EAPC +1.8%) and Sweden (-1.2%). In other countries, previously increasing trends changed. Trends flattened in Finland, Denmark, France, Italy and Norway (EAPC 0.0 to -0.3%), while they declined in England and Wales (-3.1%), Scotland (-2.0%), and The Netherlands (-1.0%), all of which have national screening programmes, and in Slovakia (-1.1%), Spain (-0.7%), and Switzerland (-1.1%). In some countries with screening programmes, declines in mortality started before screening was introduced, and declines also occurred in non-screened age groups and in some countries without national screening programmes. This suggests that the major determinants of the observed trends vary among the countries and may include earlier detection through screening in countries where this has been introduced, but also improvements in therapy, in countries with or without screening.