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Cancer. 1996 Sep 15;78(6):1220-8.

Histopathology and growth rate of interval breast carcinoma. Characterization of different subgroups.

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Department of Epidemiology, University of Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.



Interval breast cancers are defined as carcinomas occurring within 2 years after a negative screening Distinction has to made between cancers existent at the time of screening but missed for some reason, and fast-growing incident cancers. This is important because the natural history and the implications for the treatment of the patient might differ.


Radiologic and histopathologic characteristics were assembled for 104 interval cancers diagnosed within the DOM project, the Utrecht program for the early detection of breast cancer. At a mammographic review for 27 cases, signs of malignant or benign tumor were found (missed cases). For 77 cases no radiologic signs were present on review. Twenty of these cases had a mitotic rate of > 3 and a high tumor growth rate (mean doubling time: 51 days). This combination seemed implausible, therefore, it was thought hypothesized that these tumors were most likely present, although radiologically invisible (masked), at the time of screening. The remaining cases (n = 57) were classified as true interval cancers and further divided into 14 fast-growing cases (mitotic rate > or = 3/high-power field [HPF]) and 43 cases with an intermediate growth rate (mitotic rate < 3/HPF).


Factors associated with the masking of tumors were the histologic tumor type, absence of microscopic calcifications, and presence of dense breast tissue. Fast-growing tumors were characterized by a young patient age, absence of microscopic calcifications, and a high percentage of regional lymph node positive tumors. The 5-year survival probability was 100% for missed cases, 70% for masked cases, 80% for cases with an intermediate growth rate, and 54% for fast-growing cases.


It is possible to separate interval breast cancers in true interval cases and cases (most likely) existent at the time of screening. Part of this last group is invisible by mammography (masked).

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