A large increase in the incidence of breast cancer has been observed in many countries over the last two decades. On the other hand, however, breast cancer mortality has decreased. The prominent burden of breast cancer in the female population induces a lot of discussion about incidence and mortality rates, whereas lifetime risks are less mentioned. This study provides information on the changes in risks for Dutch women with regards to being diagnosed with breast cancer (both invasive and in situ) or dying from this disease during the screening era. We used the life table method to calculate lifetime risks for the period 1989-2003. The lifetime risk for developing breast cancer increased from 1 in 10 in 1989 to 1 in 7 in 2003; the risk of dying from breast cancer decreased respectively from 1 in 22 to 1 in 26. The increasing incidence is alarming but has to be seen in perspective; the decreasing mortality is promising and shows that, at most, one third of the breast cancer cases are fatal.