The aim of this study was to examine the sensitivity and specificity of screening mammography as performed in Vermont, USA, and Norway.
Incident screening data from 1997 to 2003 for female patients aged 50–69 years from the Vermont Breast Cancer Surveillance System (116 996 subsequent screening examinations) and the Norwegian Breast Cancer Screening Program (360 872 subsequent screening examinations) were compared. Sensitivity and specificity estimates for the initial (based on screening mammogram only) and final (screening mammogram plus any further diagnostic imaging) interpretations were directly adjusted for age using 5-year age intervals for the combined Vermont and Norway population, and computed for 1 and 2 years of follow-up, which ended at the time of the next screening mammogram.
For the 1-year follow-up, sensitivities for initial assessments were 82.0%, 88.2% and 92.5% for 1-, 2- and >2-year screening intervals, respectively, in Vermont (p=0.022). For final assessments, the values were 73.6%, 83.3% and 81.2% (p=0.047), respectively. For Norway, sensitivities for initial assessments were 91.0% and 91.3% (p=0.529) for 2- and >2-year intervals, and 90.7% and 91.3%, respectively, for final assessments (p=0.630). Specificity was lower in Vermont than in Norway for each screening interval and for all screening intervals combined, for both initial (90.6% vs 97.8% for all intervals; p<0.001) and final (98.8% vs 99.5% for all intervals; p<0.001) assessments.
Our study showed higher sensitivity and specificity in a biennial screening programme with an independent double reading than in a predominantly annual screening program with a single reading.
Advances in knowledge
This study demonstrates that higher recall rates and lower specificity are not always associated with higher sensitivity of screening mammography. Differences in the screening processes in Norway and Vermont suggest potential areas for improvement in the latter.