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Organized screening detects breast cancer at earlier stage regardless of molecular phenotype


Purpose — Mortality reduction attributable to organized breast screening is modest. Screening may be less effective at detecting more aggressive cancers at an earlier stage. This study was conducted to determine the relative efficacy of screening mammography to detect cancers at an earlier stage by molecular phenotype.

Methods — We identified 2882 women with primary invasive breast cancer diagnosed between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2012 and who had a mammogram through the Ontario Breast Screening Program in the 28 months before diagnosis. Five tumor phenotypes were defined by expression of estrogen (ER) and progesterone (PR) receptors and HER2/neu oncogene. We conducted univariable and multivariable analyses to describe the predictors of detection as an interval cancer. Additional analyses identified predictors of detection at stages II, III, or IV compared with stage I, by phenotype. Analyses were adjusted for the effects of age, grade, and breast density.

Results — ER negative and HER2 positive tumors were over-represented among interval cancers, and triple negative cancers were more likely than ER +/HER2 – cancers to be detected as interval cancers OR 2.5 (95% CI 2.0-3.2, p < 0.0001). Method of detection (interval vs. screen) and molecular phenotype were independently associated with stage at diagnosis (p < 0.0001), but there was no interaction between method of detection and phenotype (p = 0.44).

Conclusion — In a screened population, triple negative and HER2 + breast cancers are diagnosed at a higher stage but this appears to be due to higher growth rates of these tumors rather than a relative inability of screening to detect them.



Holloway CMB, Jiang L, Whitehead M, Racz JM, Groome PA. J Cancer Res Clin Oncol. 2018; 144(9):1769-75. Epub 2018 Jun 16.

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