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BMC Cancer. 2013 Dec 13;13:596. doi: 10.1186/1471-2407-13-596.

An ongoing case-control study to evaluate the NHS breast screening programme.

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  • 1Centre for Cancer Prevention, Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine - Room 009, Queen Mary University of London, London EC1M 6BQ, UK. s.w.duffy@qmul.ac.uk.



In England, a national breast screening programme (NHSBSP) has been in place since 1988, and assessment of its impact on breast cancer incidence and mortality is essential to ensure that the programme is indeed doing more good than harm. This article describes large observation studies designed to estimate the effects of the current programme in terms of the benefits on breast cancer incidence and mortality and detrimental effect in terms of overdiagnosis. The case-control design of the cervical screening programme evaluation was highly effective in informing policy on screening intervals and age ranges. We propose innovative selection of cases and controls and gathering of additional variables to address new outcomes of interest and develop new methodologies to control for potential sources of bias.


Traditional case-control evaluation of breast screening uses women who have died from breast cancer as cases, and women known to be alive at the time of case death as controls. Breast screening histories prior to the cases' date of first diagnosis are compared. If breast screening is preventing mortality from breast cancer, cases will be characterised by a lesser screening history than controls. All deaths and incident cases of primary breast cancer in England within each 2-year study period will be included in this ongoing evaluation. Cases will be age- and area-matched to controls and variables related to cancer treatment and breast tumour pathology will be obtained to investigate the interplay between screening and treatment, and the effect of screening on incidence of advanced stage disease. Screening attendance at other national screening programmes will also be collected to derive superior adjustment for self-selection bias.The study is registered and has received full ethics approval.

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