Background: While the question of whether the trials of breast cancer screening have resulted in a reduction in breast cancer death has been the subject of much scrutiny, there has been less attention to the reduction in tumor size achieved by screening.
Methods: Size data for invasive breast tumors were assembled from a variety of sources. The health consequences that can be expected from finding tumors of various sizes were determined using a recently developed mathematical method for relating tumor size to death rate.
Results: First, in both the Swedish two-country trial and at the MGH Breast Imaging Division, the sizes of the invasive breast cancers in the screening population (those masses seen at screening together with those found as palpable masses after screening examinations) were sufficiently smaller than the cancers found among women who had not used screening to have lead to considerable reductions in death. Second, the lack of reduction in death rates detected in both Canadian National Breast Screening Studies could be ascribed to the small reductions in tumor size achieved in these studies. Third, radiographic density had a small effect, whereas age had a negligible effect, on the capacity of mammographic screening to find breast carcinomas at smaller, and thus less lethal, sizes.
Conclusions: Prompt attendance at annual mammographic screening offers the potential to reduce tumor size and, presumably, breast carcinoma death, in women of all ages and density groups.
Copyright 2003 American Cancer Society.