Screening for breast cancer with mammography in women aged 50 years or more has been shown to reduce mortality from breast cancer. However, the extent to which mammography contributes to the reduction of mortality in women who also undergo physical examination of the breasts is not known. This study was designed to compare breast cancer mortality following annual screening consisting of two-view mammography and physical examination of the breasts with mortality following annual screening by physical examination only. Breast self-examination was taught to all participants.
This trial randomly and individually assigned 39 405 women aged 50-59 years, recruited from January 1980 through March 1985, to one of the study arms. The women were followed by record linkage with the Canadian National Cancer Registry and National Mortality Database to December 31, 1993, and by active follow-up of breast cancer patients to June 30, 1996.
Randomization achieved virtually equal distribution of demographic and breast cancer risk variables. At the first annual screen, 21% of the cancers found by mammography alone (in the mammography plus physical examination group) were 20 mm or more in size compared with 46% of those found by physical examination in the mammography plus physical examination group and 56% in the physical examination-only group. The corresponding percentages for screens 2-5 were 10%, 42%, and 50%, respectively. Screening detected 267 invasive breast cancers in the mammography plus physical examination group compared with 148 in the physical examination-only group. By December 31, 1993, 622 invasive and 71 in situ breast carcinomas were ascertained in the mammography plus physical examination group, and 610 and 16 were ascertained in the physical examination-only group. At 13-year follow-up, with 107 and 105 deaths from breast cancer in the respective groups, the cumulative rate ratio was 1.02 (95% confidence interval = 0.78-1.33).
In women aged 50-59 years, the addition of annual mammography screening to physical examination has no impact on breast cancer mortality.
Comment In: J Natl Cancer Inst. 2001 Mar 7;93(5):396-711238702