Background: Although increasing rates of breast carcinoma incidence have been observed in Asian countries, appropriate strategies for detecting early stage breast carcinoma in such communities have been difficult to formulate, particularly because no large population screening trial specifically involving Asian women has been reported. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness and quality of mammography as a screening technique for Singaporean women, who are predominantly Chinese.
Methods: In this prospective study, 166,600 women in Singapore ages 50-64 years were randomized to either 2-view mammography without physical examination (67,656) or observation (97,294, controls) over 2 years.
Results: Of these women, 28,231 (41.7%) responded and were screened; they were more likely to be married, have more formal education, be working, be Chinese, and be in a higher socioeconomic group (P < 0.001 for all variables). To assess for response bias that could affect outcome, results were also evaluated for nonrespondents (n = 39,425). The incidence rate of cancers among nonrespondents (1 per 1000 woman-years) was less than the 1.3 in women not invited to have screening (P = 0.03, relative risk [RR], 1.3; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.0-1.7). However, cancers arising from nonrespondents did not differ significantly in stage distribution when compared with cancers within the control group. For every 1000 women screened, 4.8 cancers were detected. The prevalence ratio (the number of cancers detected per 1000 women at first screening divided by the corresponding incidence rate in controls per year) was 3.6 for screened women and 2.4 for women invited to have screening. The majority of cancers detected through screening were early stage, with 64% as either ductal carcinoma in situ (26%) or Stage I disease (38%) and was significantly more than the corresponding 26% in women not invited to have screening (P < 0.001). When only invasive cancers were considered, screened women still had more early cancers, with 65% having no lymph node involvement, compared with 47% in the group not invited to have screening (P = 0.001; RR, 1.4; 95% CI, 1.2-1.7). Women who were screened had half the risk of having Stage II or later cancers (P < 0.0001; RR, 0.5; 95% CI, 0.4-0.7) when compared with women not invited to have screening. This higher detection rate of early cancers through screening was accomplished with acceptable recall rates of 8% for further mammographic films or physical examination and a biopsy rate of 1.0% (10 per 1000 women screened). The interval cancer rate was 2.1 per 10,000 women screened in the first year of follow-up.
Conclusions: These positive results of intermediate measures suggest that, in Asian communities, screening mammography could be an important modality for detecting early stage breast carcinoma. However, the low compliance rates suggest that health education efforts must focus on issues related to acceptability if such programs are to succeed.