The aim of this study was the evaluation of the impact of service screening programmes on breast cancer mortality in five regions of Italy. We conducted a matched case-control study with four controls for each case. Cases were defined as breast cancer deaths occurred not later than 31 December 2002. Controls were sampled from the local municipality list and matched by date of birth. Screening histories were assessed by the local, computerised, screening database and subjects were classified as either invited or not-yet-invited and as either screened or unscreened. There were a total of 1750 breast cancer deaths within the 50 to 74-year-old breast cancer cases and a total of 7000 controls. The logistic conditional estimate of the cumulative odds ratios comparing invited with not-yet-invited women was 0.75 (95% CI: 0.62-0.92). Restricting the analyses to invited women, the odds ratio of screened to never-respondent women corrected for self-selection bias was 0.55 (95% CI: 0.36-0.85). The introduction of breast cancer screening programmes in Italy is associated with a reduction in breast cancer mortality attributable to the additional impact of service screening over and above the background access to mammography.