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Concept: Mammography


Background The goal of screening mammography is to detect small malignant tumors before they grow large enough to cause symptoms. Effective screening should therefore lead to the detection of a greater number of small tumors, followed by fewer large tumors over time. Methods We used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, 1975 through 2012, to calculate the tumor-size distribution and size-specific incidence of breast cancer among women 40 years of age or older. We then calculated the size-specific cancer case fatality rate for two time periods: a baseline period before the implementation of widespread screening mammography (1975 through 1979) and a period encompassing the most recent years for which 10 years of follow-up data were available (2000 through 2002). Results After the advent of screening mammography, the proportion of detected breast tumors that were small (invasive tumors measuring <2 cm or in situ carcinomas) increased from 36% to 68%; the proportion of detected tumors that were large (invasive tumors measuring ≥2 cm) decreased from 64% to 32%. However, this trend was less the result of a substantial decrease in the incidence of large tumors (with 30 fewer cases of cancer observed per 100,000 women in the period after the advent of screening than in the period before screening) and more the result of a substantial increase in the detection of small tumors (with 162 more cases of cancer observed per 100,000 women). Assuming that the underlying disease burden was stable, only 30 of the 162 additional small tumors per 100,000 women that were diagnosed were expected to progress to become large, which implied that the remaining 132 cases of cancer per 100,000 women were overdiagnosed (i.e., cases of cancer were detected on screening that never would have led to clinical symptoms). The potential of screening to lower breast cancer mortality is reflected in the declining incidence of larger tumors. However, with respect to only these large tumors, the decline in the size-specific case fatality rate suggests that improved treatment was responsible for at least two thirds of the reduction in breast cancer mortality. Conclusions Although the rate of detection of large tumors fell after the introduction of screening mammography, the more favorable size distribution was primarily the result of the additional detection of small tumors. Women were more likely to have breast cancer that was overdiagnosed than to have earlier detection of a tumor that was destined to become large. The reduction in breast cancer mortality after the implementation of screening mammography was predominantly the result of improved systemic therapy.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Cancer, Breast cancer, Metastasis, Oncology, Tumor, Neoplasm, Mammography


Pathologists and radiologists spend years acquiring and refining their medically essential visual skills, so it is of considerable interest to understand how this process actually unfolds and what image features and properties are critical for accurate diagnostic performance. Key insights into human behavioral tasks can often be obtained by using appropriate animal models. We report here that pigeons (Columba livia)-which share many visual system properties with humans-can serve as promising surrogate observers of medical images, a capability not previously documented. The birds proved to have a remarkable ability to distinguish benign from malignant human breast histopathology after training with differential food reinforcement; even more importantly, the pigeons were able to generalize what they had learned when confronted with novel image sets. The birds' histological accuracy, like that of humans, was modestly affected by the presence or absence of color as well as by degrees of image compression, but these impacts could be ameliorated with further training. Turning to radiology, the birds proved to be similarly capable of detecting cancer-relevant microcalcifications on mammogram images. However, when given a different (and for humans quite difficult) task-namely, classification of suspicious mammographic densities (masses)-the pigeons proved to be capable only of image memorization and were unable to successfully generalize when shown novel examples. The birds' successes and difficulties suggest that pigeons are well-suited to help us better understand human medical image perception, and may also prove useful in performance assessment and development of medical imaging hardware, image processing, and image analysis tools.

Concepts: Medicine, Cancer, X-ray, Medical imaging, Radiology, Medical physics, Mammography, Image processing


A decline in breast cancer mortality has been observed in western European Countries since the middle of the 1990s.Different methodological approaches, including case-control studies, incidence-based mortality studies, and trend studies, have been used to assess the effectiveness of mammography screening programmes in reducing breast cancer mortality. However, not all methods succeed in distinguishing the relative contributions of service screening and taking correctly into consideration the potential source of bias that might affect the estimate.Recently, a review of six case-control studies confirmed a breast cancer mortality reduction ranging from 38% to 70% among screened women. This figure is in accordance with the estimate obtained from incidence-based mortality studies if screening compliance is taken into account. We will describe the methodological constraints of mortality trend studies in predicting the impact of screening on mortality and the necessary caution that must be applied when interpreting the results of such studies.In conclusion, when appropriate methodological approaches are used, it is evident that mammographic screening programmes have contributed substantially to the observed decline in breast cancer mortality.

Concepts: Scientific method, Epidemiology, Cancer, Breast cancer, Metastasis, Europe, Breast, Mammography


Fibroglandular tissue may mask breast cancers, thereby reducing the sensitivity of mammography. Here, we investigate methods for identification of women at high risk of a masked tumor, who could benefit from additional imaging.

Concepts: Cancer, Breast cancer, Oncology, Volume, Type I and type II errors, Mammography, Mask, Masks


In mammography, breast compression is applied to reduce the thickness of the breast. While it is widely accepted that firm breast compression is needed to ensure acceptable image quality, guidelines remain vague about how much compression should be applied during mammogram acquisition. A quantitative parameter indicating the desirable amount of compression is not available. Consequently, little is known about the relationship between the amount of breast compression and breast cancer detectability. The purpose of this study is to determine the effect of breast compression pressure in mammography on breast cancer screening outcomes.

Concepts: Cancer, Breast cancer, Metastasis, Oncology, Biopsy, Type I and type II errors, Breast, Mammography


Populationwide mammography screening has been associated with a substantial rise in false-positive mammography findings and breast cancer overdiagnosis. However, there is a lack of current data on the associated costs in the United States. We present costs due to false-positive mammograms and breast cancer overdiagnoses among women ages 40-59, based on expenditure data from a major US health care insurance plan for 702,154 women in the years 2011-13. The average expenditures for each false-positive mammogram, invasive breast cancer, and ductal carcinoma in situ in the twelve months following diagnosis were $852, $51,837 and $12,369, respectively. This translates to a national cost of $4 billion each year. The costs associated with false-positive mammograms and breast cancer overdiagnoses appear to be much higher than previously documented. Screening has the potential to save lives. However, the economic impact of false-positive mammography results and breast cancer overdiagnoses must be considered in the debate about the appropriate populations for screening.

Concepts: Cancer, Breast cancer, Carcinoma in situ, Mammography


Background To reduce mortality, screening must detect life-threatening disease at an earlier, more curable stage. Effective cancer-screening programs therefore both increase the incidence of cancer detected at an early stage and decrease the incidence of cancer presenting at a late stage. Methods We used Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results data to examine trends from 1976 through 2008 in the incidence of early-stage breast cancer (ductal carcinoma in situ and localized disease) and late-stage breast cancer (regional and distant disease) among women 40 years of age or older. Results The introduction of screening mammography in the United States has been associated with a doubling in the number of cases of early-stage breast cancer that are detected each year, from 112 to 234 cases per 100,000 women - an absolute increase of 122 cases per 100,000 women. Concomitantly, the rate at which women present with late-stage cancer has decreased by 8%, from 102 to 94 cases per 100,000 women - an absolute decrease of 8 cases per 100,000 women. With the assumption of a constant underlying disease burden, only 8 of the 122 additional early-stage cancers diagnosed were expected to progress to advanced disease. After excluding the transient excess incidence associated with hormone-replacement therapy and adjusting for trends in the incidence of breast cancer among women younger than 40 years of age, we estimated that breast cancer was overdiagnosed (i.e., tumors were detected on screening that would never have led to clinical symptoms) in 1.3 million U.S. women in the past 30 years. We estimated that in 2008, breast cancer was overdiagnosed in more than 70,000 women; this accounted for 31% of all breast cancers diagnosed. Conclusions Despite substantial increases in the number of cases of early-stage breast cancer detected, screening mammography has only marginally reduced the rate at which women present with advanced cancer. Although it is not certain which women have been affected, the imbalance suggests that there is substantial overdiagnosis, accounting for nearly a third of all newly diagnosed breast cancers, and that screening is having, at best, only a small effect on the rate of death from breast cancer.

Concepts: Epidemiology, Cancer, Breast cancer, Metastasis, Carcinoma in situ, Cancer staging, Neoplasm, Mammography


Screening mammography rates vary considerably by location in the United States, providing a natural opportunity to investigate the associations of screening with breast cancer incidence and mortality, which are subjects of debate.

Concepts: Cancer, Breast cancer, Metastasis, Oncology, United States, Breast, Mammography, Louisiana


Mammography screening for breast cancer is widely available in many countries. Initially praised as a universal achievement to improve women’s health and to reduce the burden of breast cancer, the benefits and harms of mammography screening have been debated heatedly in the past years. This review discusses the benefits and harms of mammography screening in light of findings from randomized trials and from more recent observational studies performed in the era of modern diagnostics and treatment. The main benefit of mammography screening is reduction of breast-cancer related death. Relative reductions vary from about 15 to 25% in randomized trials to more recent estimates of 13 to 17% in meta-analyses of observational studies. Using UK population data of 2007, for 1,000 women invited to biennial mammography screening for 20 years from age 50, 2 to 3 women are prevented from dying of breast cancer. All-cause mortality is unchanged. Overdiagnosis of breast cancer is the main harm of mammography screening. Based on recent estimates from the United States, the relative amount of overdiagnosis (including ductal carcinoma in situ and invasive cancer) is 31%. This results in 15 women overdiagnosed for every 1,000 women invited to biennial mammography screening for 20 years from age 50. Women should be unpassionately informed about the benefits and harms of mammography screening using absolute effect sizes in a comprehensible fashion. In an era of limited health care resources, screening services need to be scrutinized and compared with each other with regard to effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and harms.

Concepts: Cancer, Breast cancer, Metastasis, Carcinoma in situ, Cancer staging, Breast, Effect size, Mammography


BACKGROUND: A variety of estimates of the benefits and harms of mammographic screening for breast cancer have been published and national policies vary. OBJECTIVES: To assess the effect of screening for breast cancer with mammography on mortality and morbidity. SEARCH METHODS: We searched PubMed (22 November 2012) and the World Health Organization’s International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (22 November 2012). SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised trials comparing mammographic screening with no mammographic screening. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two authors independently extracted data. Study authors were contacted for additional information. MAIN RESULTS: Eight eligible trials were identified. We excluded a trial because the randomisation had failed to produce comparable groups.The eligible trials included 600,000 women in the analyses in the age range 39 to 74 years. Three trials with adequate randomisation did not show a statistically significant reduction in breast cancer mortality at 13 years (relative risk (RR) 0.90, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.79 to 1.02); four trials with suboptimal randomisation showed a significant reduction in breast cancer mortality with an RR of 0.75 (95% CI 0.67 to 0.83). The RR for all seven trials combined was 0.81 (95% CI 0.74 to 0.87). We found that breast cancer mortality was an unreliable outcome that was biased in favour of screening, mainly because of differential misclassification of cause of death. The trials with adequate randomisation did not find an effect of screening on total cancer mortality, including breast cancer, after 10 years (RR 1.02, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.10) or on all-cause mortality after 13 years (RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.03).Total numbers of lumpectomies and mastectomies were significantly larger in the screened groups (RR 1.31, 95% CI 1.22 to 1.42), as were number of mastectomies (RR 1.20, 95% CI 1.08 to 1.32). The use of radiotherapy was similarly increased whereas there was no difference in the use of chemotherapy (data available in only two trials). AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: If we assume that screening reduces breast cancer mortality by 15% and that overdiagnosis and overtreatment is at 30%, it means that for every 2000 women invited for screening throughout 10 years, one will avoid dying of breast cancer and 10 healthy women, who would not have been diagnosed if there had not been screening, will be treated unnecessarily. Furthermore, more than 200 women will experience important psychological distress including anxiety and uncertainty for years because of false positive findings. To help ensure that the women are fully informed before they decide whether or not to attend screening, we have written an evidence-based leaflet for lay people that is available in several languages on Because of substantial advances in treatment and greater breast cancer awareness since the trials were carried out, it is likely that the absolute effect of screening today is smaller than in the trials. Recent observational studies show more overdiagnosis than in the trials and very little or no reduction in the incidence of advanced cancers with screening.

Concepts: Cancer, Breast cancer, Statistics, Statistical significance, Chemotherapy, Screening, Effect size, Mammography