Background: A challenge in quantifying the effect of screening mammography on breast-cancer mortality is to provide valid comparison groups. The use of historical control subjects does not take into account chronologic trends associated with advances in breast-cancer awareness and treatment.
Methods: The Norwegian breast-cancer screening program was started in 1996 and expanded geographically during the subsequent 9 years. Women between the ages of 50 and 69 years were offered screening mammography every 2 years. We compared the incidence-based rates of death from breast cancer in four groups: two groups of women who from 1996 through 2005 were living in counties with screening (screening group) or without screening (nonscreening group); and two historical-comparison groups that from 1986 through 1995 mirrored the current groups.
Results: We analyzed data from 40,075 women with breast cancer. The rate of death was reduced by 7.2 deaths per 100,000 person-years in the screening group as compared with the historical screening group (rate ratio, 0.72; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.63 to 0.81) and by 4.8 deaths per 100,000 person-years in the nonscreening group as compared with the historical nonscreening group (rate ratio, 0.82; 95% CI, 0.71 to 0.93; P<0.001 for both comparisons), for a relative reduction in mortality of 10% in the screening group (P=0.13). Thus, the difference in the reduction in mortality between the current and historical groups that could be attributed to screening alone was 2.4 deaths per 100,000 person-years, or a third of the total reduction of 7.2 deaths.
Conclusions: The availability of screening mammography was associated with a reduction in the rate of death from breast cancer, but the screening itself accounted for only about a third of the total reduction. (Funded by the Cancer Registry of Norway and the Research Council of Norway.)