Breast cancer screening programs around the globe


Breast cancer screening is about detecting cancer at an early stage, before there are any symptoms – or even worse, metastases. While this might not prevent the disease, it can help improve the chance of survival because a small, locally growing lesion is easier to treat than an invasive cancer.

Countries that offer organized nationwide, regional, or pilot screening programs.1

Screening programs: an international comparison

According to the National Cancer Institute, 26 ICSN countries offer organized screening programs for women. However, there’s no global standard for how screening should be performed. The programs are usually implemented either nationally or at the state/provincial/regional level. While mammography is the standard screening technology in all countries, some supplement it with ultrasound, MRI or digital tomosynthesis.

Special centers as well as general medical facilities and sometimes mobile screening units perform the screening, most commonly at two-year intervals. Only the United Kingdom recommends screening every three years, the United States and Sweden (depending on the age of the woman) every one to two years, and Uruguay every year.

Most screening programs concentrate on patients between the ages of 50 – 70. In Sweden, Australia, South Korea, Japan, China, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay, and the United States, women are routinely screened starting at the age of 40. The participation rates also vary considerably from country to country: from around 20 percent in Japan and Saudi Arabia to around 50 percent in Canada, France, and Switzerland to more than 80 percent in Finland and the Netherlands.2

The difference between a screening mammogram and a diagnostic mammogram

Screening mammograms are acquired of healthy women who belong to a certain age group. Usually two X-ray images of each breast are taken. Diagnostic mammograms are used to check for breast cancer after a lump or other indication of breast cancer has been found. The same system can be used for both types of mammograms. Diagnostic mammography, however, can take longer to perform and the total dose level might be higher because more and/or different X-ray images like magnification views or tomosynthesis scans are needed to obtain views of the breast from several perspectives.3

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Based on an article by Martin Lindner:


2International Cancer Screening Network: Breast Cancer Screening Programs in 26 ICSN Countries, 2012: Organization, Policies, and Program Reach.