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Int J Cancer. 2001 Apr 15;92(2):303-8.

Diverging breast cancer mortality rates in relation to screening? A comparison of Nijmegen to Arnhem and the Netherlands, 1969-1997.

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Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University Medical Centre Nijmegen, P.O. Bpx 9101, 6500 HB Nijmegen, the Netherlands.


Age-standardised breast cancer mortality rates have been stable for decades. However, rates have started to decline in several Western countries. In countries where population-based screening programmes for breast cancer were introduced in the late 1980s or early 1990s, the key question now is to what extent screening is responsible for the reported declines in mortality. This study compares breast cancer mortality rates in Nijmegen, where a screening programme for breast cancer was introduced in 1975, to a control city, Arnhem, and to the Netherlands as a whole over a 20-year period. Age-standardised breast cancer mortality rates as well as age-standardised mortality ratios were calculated for successive calendar years from 1969 to 1997. Further, a tailor-made period-cohort-group Poisson regression model was fitted. Figures displaying age-standardised mortality rates and ratios showed inconclusive patterns with regard to the expected impact of screening. Depending on when mortality rates were allowed to deviate between populations, the period-cohort-group analysis indicated a non-significant 6% to 16% reduction in breast cancer mortality after 2 decades in favour of the Nijmegen female population. Possible explanations are discussed as to why the mortality reductions reported by randomised trials might not be observed in a public health screening programme, such as the Nijmegen programme, evaluated by comparisons of geographical trends.

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