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Non-operative diagnosis rates in the UK breast screening programme have improved dramatically from 48.8% in 1994/95 (only nine units achieved the then minimum standard of 70%) to 94% in 2005/06 (only seven units failed to achieve the target of 90%). Preoperative and operative history of all 120,550 women diagnosed with screen-detected breast cancer in the UK between April 1994 and March 2006 was derived from different national databases. In 2005/06, 2,790 (17.8%) of the 15,688 women having surgery needed two or more operations. In 2001/02 (non-operative diagnosis rate 87%), the re-operation rate was 23.8% (2,377 of 9,969). Extrapolation backwards to 1994/95 (non-operative diagnosis rate 48.8%) suggests a re-operation rate of 62%. Analysis over the 4 years from April 2002 (n = 34,198) demonstrates that 4,089 (12%) women with a correct non-operative diagnosis of invasive disease required additional surgery compared to 1,166 (48%) of women who were under-staged (diagnosed as non-invasive based on core biopsy, but actually suffering from invasive disease). Failure to achieve a non-operative diagnosis of invasive disease (n = 1,542) or non-invasive disease (n = 2,247) resulted in re-operation rates of 65 and 43% respectively. Given the impact of not having a diagnosis pre-operatively, or of under-staging invasive carcinoma, it seems timely to introduce more sophisticated standards.