The frequency of interval cancers (IC) can be an indicator inversely related to the quality of a breast screening programme. The objectives were to estimate the frequency of IC, to classify IC by posterior radiological review, and to describe the prognostic factors of these IC. The setting was the Sabadell-Cerdanyola Breast Cancer Screening Programme, in Northeast Spain. We developed a population-based study of the IC occurring in the first three rounds (1995-2001). The indicators used were the incidence rate of invasive IC per 10 000 women screened and the proportional incidence, stratified by age group, type of screening and the round, and the time elapsed since the last screening mammogram. A radiological informed consensus review was used to classify the IC. No specific pattern of incidence rates was evident with respect to age, type of screening, or round, although screening was generally more sensitive in women aged 60-69 years. The proportional incidence for the period 0-11 months was always under 30%. Twenty-one percent of 38 IC evaluated (95% CI: 8.0-34.0) were attributed to errors in the screening process (false negatives). No major differences in the prognostic factors of the 57 IC were identified on examining the radiological type or the time since the last screening mammogram. We observed a high frequency of IC from 12 months after screening. It is necessary to reach a consensus regarding the definition and the analysis of IC and to establish mechanisms that would allow all the malignant tumours diagnosed in the target population to be identified.