Objective To analyse stage specific incidence of breast cancer in the Netherlands where women have been invited to biennial mammography screening since 1989 (ages 50-69) and 1997 (ages 70-75), and to assess changes in breast cancer mortality and quantified overdiagnosis.
Design Population based study.
Setting Mammography screening programme, the Netherlands.
Participants Dutch women of all ages, 1989 to 2012.
Main outcome measures Stage specific age adjusted incidence of breast cancer from 1989 to 2012. The extra numbers of in situ and stage 1 breast tumours associated with screening were estimated by comparing rates in women aged 50-74 with those in age groups not invited to screening. Overdiagnosis was estimated after subtraction of the lead time cancers. Breast cancer mortality reductions and overdiagnosis during 2010-12 were computed without (scenario 1) and with (scenario 2) a cohort effect on mortality secular trends.
Results The incidence of stage 2-4 breast cancers in women aged 50 or more was 168 per 100 000 in 1989 and 166 per 100 000 in 2012. Screening would be associated with a 5% mortality reduction in scenario 1 and with no influence on mortality in scenario 2. In both scenarios, improved treatments would be associated with 28% reductions in mortality. Overdiagnosis has steadily increased over time with the extension of screening to women aged 70-75 and with the introduction of digital mammography. After deduction of clinical lead time cancers, 33% of cancers found in women invited to screening in 2010-12 and 59% of screen detected cancers would be overdiagnosed.
Conclusions The Dutch mammography screening programme seems to have little impact on the burden of advanced breast cancers, which suggests a marginal effect on breast cancer mortality. About half of screen detected breast cancers would represent overdiagnosis.