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Trends in mortality from breast cancer over the period 1970–2000 were analysed for 38 European countries and the European Union (EU). Age-standardized mortality rates were computed by the direct method, and joinpoint analysis was used to identify significant changes in rates. A favourable pattern in breast cancer mortality in the 25 countries of the EU (as defined in May 2004) was observed after 1989, leading to a fall in overall rates from 21.3/100 000 in 1990 to 18.9 in 2000. The annual percentage change in the EU was −2.1% between 1995 and 2000. Most northern European countries, including several Scandinavian countries and the UK, but also some central and southern European countries like Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Spain showed appreciable falls in rates (i.e. between 8 and 19% in the last 5 calendar years). The declines were larger below age 50, approaching 20% in several countries. The falls were smaller in France, Greece, Portugal and most eastern European countries. In the Russian Federation, all-age breast cancer mortality increased from 16.1 to 17.3/100 000 (+7.5% over the last 5 calendar years). These patterns reflect converging trends in breast cancer rates across Europe, which can be related to the more uniform reproductive and lifestyle habits. The fall in breast cancer mortality observed in most European countries over the last decade has to be attributed to earlier detection and improved treatment, although the definite reasons for the different trends in various countries remain at least in part unclear.