Interval cancers in the Norwegian breast cancer screening program: Frequency, characteristics and use of HRT



Breast cancers diagnosed between screening examinations among women who attend a breast cancer screening program are defined as interval cancers. The Norwegian Breast Cancer Screening Program started as a pilot project in 1996, and data from the first 2-year interval are available. Our study quantifies interval cancers in the pilot project and explores characteristics and factors that may be associated with interval cancer. Interval cancers in the screening population were identified through the Cancer Registry of Norway. The frequency of invasive interval cancer was calculated as cases per 10,000 screened and as observed/expected ratio. Characteristics of the interval cancers were compared to screening-detected and clinical cancers. Breast density was assessed in a blinded review of 3 categories of screening mammograms. Information on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) use was collected from a questionnaire. The frequency of invasive interval cancers was 18.2 (15.9–20.7) per 10,000 screened and the observed/expected ratio was 0.49 (0.43–0.56). The frequency in the second year of the interval was higher than reported from other programs. The median tumor size of the interval cancers was 19.5 mm and 44.0% of the patients had affected axillary lymph nodes. The interval cancer cases had higher proportions of dense breasts and reported use of HRT compared to screen normal and screening-detected cases. The reported frequency of interval cancers is similar to comparable programs. The interval cancers differed significantly from the cancers detected in the first screening round and were more similar to clinical cancers. Interval cancer was associated with dense breasts and use of HRT. Screening programs must keep these associations in focus. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.