Introduction: Mammographic density (MD) is the strongest risk factor for breast cancer. It is also strongly associated with interval cancers (ICs) due to decreased screening sensitivity and possibly by also giving rise to more aggressive tumors. With this information as background, we compared survival in interval and screen-detected cancers, taking MD into consideration.
Methods: The patients were postmenopausal women ages 50 to 74 years who were diagnosed with breast cancer in Sweden between 1993 and 1995. A total of 1,115 women with screen-detected cancers and 285 with ICs had available mammograms. Cox proportional hazards models were used to compare breast cancer-specific survival between interval and screen-detected cancers stratified on MD.
Results: Hazard rates for breast cancer-specific survival were approximately three times higher in ICs than in screen-detected cancers, independent of MD. After adjustment for tumor size, a proxy for time to diagnosis, ICs in nondense breasts still had a statistically significantly increased hazard rate compared to screen-detected cancers in nondense breasts (5-yr survival hazard ratio (HR) 2.43, P = 0.001). In dense breasts, however, there was no longer evidence of a difference in survival between ICs and screen-detected cancers (5-yr survival HR 1.41, P = 0.486).
Conclusions: In nondense breasts, ICs seem to be truly more aggressive than screen-detected cancers. In dense breasts, the poorer prognosis of ICs compared to that of screen-detected cancers may be attributable at least partially to later detection. However, to the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to investigate these relationships, and further studies are warranted to confirm our results.