DÄ internationalArchive23/2008Benefit and Risk of Mammography Screening – Considerations from an Epidemiological Viewpoint: Overestimation of Reduction in Mortality

Correspondence

Benefit and Risk of Mammography Screening – Considerations from an Epidemiological Viewpoint: Overestimation of Reduction in Mortality

Dtsch Arztebl Int 2008; 105(23): 419. DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2008.0419b

Weymayr, C

LNSLNS Becker and Junkermann mention a 10% overdiagnosis rate as a possible harm resulting from mammography screening. In stating this, the authors have done a much better job than the current mammography information sheet of the German Joint Federal Committee, which is supposed to educate women about mammography but does not mention this very serious harm that can result from an early detection program.

The authors, however, fail to take overdiagnosis into account when they write that the mortality from breast cancer is 31 of 100 unscreened women compared to 20 of 100 screened women, corresponding to a 35% reduction in mortality.

(1) If the overdiagnosis rate is 10%, then, of 100 tumors detected by mammography, 10 would not have reached medical attention. The 20 deaths among these 100 women would therefore all be in the group of 90 women with potentially fatal tumors, which the authors compare to a group of 100 women whose tumors did reach medical attention. If we renormalize the 20 deaths among 90 women to a group of 100 women, we arrive at a figure of 22 deaths, and therefore to a 29% (not 35%) reduction in mortality.

(2) The authors have taken the 10% overdiagnosis rate from the article by Zackrisson et al. (1). These authors looked at the cumulative incidence 15 years after the end of the Malmö study. Immediately after the end of the study, however, the corresponding figure was 24%. Zahl et al. arrived at an even higher figure of 30% (2). The 10% overdiagnosis figure also seems too low because the overdiagnosis rate of in situ carcinoma alone is 13% (3). If the true overdiagnosis rate is 20%, then there would be 25 deaths resulting from 100 potentially fatal tumors detected by mammography, yielding a 20% reduction in mortality compared to no screening. If the true overdiagnosis rate is 30%, the corresponding numbers are 28 deaths and a 10% reduction in mortality. This uncertainty deserves mention just as much as the phenomenon of overdiagnosis itself.
DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2008.0419b


Dr. rer. nat. Christian Weymayr
Schaeferstr. 22, 44623 Herne, Germany
Christian.Weymayr@web.de
1.
Zackrisson S, Andersson I, Janzon L et al.: Rate of over-diagnosis of breast cancer 15 years after end of Malmö mammographic screening trial: follow-up study. BMJ 2006; 332: 689–92. MEDLINE
2.
Zahl PH, Strand BH, Mæhlen J: Incidence of breast cancer in Norway and Sweden during introduction of nationwide screening: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2004; 328: 921–4. MEDLINE
3.
Koch K, Weymayr Ch: Kritik der Krebsfrüherkennung. Der Onkologe 2008; 14: 181–8.
1. Zackrisson S, Andersson I, Janzon L et al.: Rate of over-diagnosis of breast cancer 15 years after end of Malmö mammographic screening trial: follow-up study. BMJ 2006; 332: 689–92. MEDLINE
2. Zahl PH, Strand BH, Mæhlen J: Incidence of breast cancer in Norway and Sweden during introduction of nationwide screening: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2004; 328: 921–4. MEDLINE
3. Koch K, Weymayr Ch: Kritik der Krebsfrüherkennung. Der Onkologe 2008; 14: 181–8.