Screening for breast cancer in 2018— what should we be doing today?

J.M. Seely, T. Alhassan


Although screening mammography has delivered many benefits since its introduction in Canada in 1988, questions about perceived harms warrant an up-to-date review. To help oncologists and physicians provide optimal patient recommendations, the literature was reviewed to find the latest guidelines for screening mammography, including benefits and perceived harms of overdiagnosis, false positives, false negatives, and technologic advances.

For women 40–74 years of age who actually participate in screening every 1–2 years, breast cancer mortality is reduced by 40%. With appropriate corrections, overdiagnosis accounts for 10% or fewer breast cancers. False positives occur in about 10% of screened women, 80% of which are resolved with additional imaging, and 10%, with breast biopsy. An important limitation of screening is the false negatives (15%–20%). The technologic advances of digital breast tomosynthesis, breast ultrasonography, and magnetic resonance imaging counter the false negatives of screening mammography, particularly in women with dense breast tissue.


Breast cancer; screening mammography; digital breast tomosynthesis; overdiagnosis

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ISSN: 1198-0052 (Print) ISSN: 1718-7729 (Online)