Objective To compare trends in breast cancer mortality within three pairs of neighbouring European countries in relation to implementation of screening.
Design Retrospective trend analysis.
Setting Three country pairs (Northern Ireland (United Kingdom) v Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands v Belgium and Flanders (Belgian region south of the Netherlands), and Sweden v Norway).
Data sources WHO mortality database on cause of death and data sources on mammography screening, cancer treatment, and risk factors for breast cancer mortality.
Main outcome measures Changes in breast cancer mortality calculated from linear regressions of log transformed, age adjusted death rates. Joinpoint analysis was used to identify the year when trends in mortality for all ages began to change.
Results From 1989 to 2006, deaths from breast cancer decreased by 29% in Northern Ireland and by 26% in the Republic of Ireland; by 25% in the Netherlands and by 20% in Belgium and 25% in Flanders; and by 16% in Sweden and by 24% in Norway. The time trend and year of downward inflexion were similar between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and between the Netherlands and Flanders. In Sweden, mortality rates have steadily decreased since 1972, with no downward inflexion until 2006. Countries of each pair had similar healthcare services and prevalence of risk factors for breast cancer mortality but differing implementation of mammography screening, with a gap of about 10-15 years.
Conclusions The contrast between the time differences in implementation of mammography screening and the similarity in reductions in mortality between the country pairs suggest that screening did not play a direct part in the reductions in breast cancer mortality.