Impact of screening mammography on breast cancer mortality

Int J Cancer. 2016 Apr 15;138(8):2003-12. doi: 10.1002/ijc.29925. Epub 2015 Dec 15.


The degree to which observed reductions in breast cancer mortality is attributable to screening mammography has become increasingly controversial. We examined this issue with three fundamentally different approaches: (i) Chronology--the temporal relationship of the onset of breast cancer mortality decline and the national implementation of screening mammography; (ii) Magnitude--the degree to which breast cancer mortality declined relative to the amount (penetration) of screening mammography; (iii) Analogy--the pattern of mortality rate reductions of other cancers for which population screening is not conducted. Chronology and magnitude were assessed with data from Europe and North America, with three methods applied to magnitude. A comparison of eight countries in Europe and North America does not demonstrate a correlation between the penetration of national screening and either the chronology or magnitude of national breast cancer mortality reduction. In the United States, the magnitude of the mortality decline is greater in the unscreened, younger women than in the screened population and regional variation in the rate of breast cancer mortality reduction is not correlated with screening penetrance, either as self-reported or by the magnitude of screening-induced increase in early-stage disease. Analogy analysis of United States data identifies 14 other cancers with a similar distinct onset of mortality reduction for which screening is not performed. These five lines of evidence from three different approaches and additional observations discussed do not support the hypothesis that mammography screening is a primary reason for the breast cancer mortality reduction in Europe and North America.

Keywords: breast cancer; mortality benefit; screening mammography.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Early Detection of Cancer / mortality*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography / mortality*
  • Middle Aged
  • SEER Program