Background: Currently, there have been no reports of clear-cut beneficial effects of regular screening with mammography at a mean screening interval of 2 years in women younger than 50 years of age. It may be that, because of a higher growth rate of breast cancer, more frequent screening is necessary if any effect is to be observed in this age group. However, good quantitative estimates for the growth rate in different age groups are lacking.
Methods: The study group consisted of cancers diagnosed in women who participated in a screening program with serial mammography available. The growth rate, expressed as the tumor volume doubling time, was calculated on the assumption of exponential growth. The analysis was based, not only on the increase in tumor volume for cancers with at least two mammograms showing a measurable tumor nucleus shadow (n = 85), but also on censored values, calculated for cancers showing no growth (n = 6) and for cancers showing only a measurable tumor nucleus shadow on the mammogram at diagnosis (n = 109). In calculating these latter growth rates, the density of the breast parenchyma was taken into account.
Results: The median volume doubling time of the primary breast cancers diagnosed in women aged 50-70 years was 157 days (95% confidence limits, 121-204 days). This was significantly longer than in women younger than 50 years of age at diagnosis (80 days; 95% confidence limits, 44-147 days). Primary breast cancer in women older than 70 years of age at diagnosis grew even more slowly (median, 188 days; 95% confidence limits, 120-295).
Conclusions: To observe a beneficial effect of screening, if any, for women younger than age 50 years, more frequent screening than in the older age group is necessary.