Kantonsspital St.Gallen

Impact of mammography screening programmes on breast cancer mortality in Switzerland, a country with different regional screening policies

Christian Herrmann, Penelope Vounatsou, Beat Thürlimann, Nicole Probst-Hensch, Christian Rothermundt & Silvia Ess


In the past decades, mortality due to breast cancer has declined considerably in Switzerland and other developed countries. The reasons for this decline remain controversial as several factors occurred almost simultaneously, including important advances in treatment approaches, breast cancer awareness and the introduction of mammography screening programmes in many European countries. In Switzerland, mammography screening programmes (MSPs) have existed in some regions for over 20 years but do not yet exist in others. This offers the possibility to analyse its effects with modern spatiotemporal methodology. We aimed to assess the spatiotemporal patterns and the effect of MSPs on breast cancer mortality.


The study covers breast cancer deaths of the female population of Switzerland during the period 1969-2012. We retrieved data from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office aggregated on a small-area level.

We fitted Bayesian hierarchical spatiotemporal models on death rates indirectly standardised by national references. We used linguistic region, degree of urbanisation, duration of population-based screening programmes and socioeconomic index as covariates.

In Switzerland, breast cancer mortality in women slightly increased until 1989-1992 and declined strongly thereafter. Until 2009-2012, the standardised mortality ratio declined to 57% (95% CI 54% to 60%) of the 1969-1972 value. None of the other coefficients of the spatial regressions had a significant effect on breast cancer mortality. In 2009-2012, no region had significantly elevated or reduced breast cancer mortality at 95% credible interval level compared with the national mean.

There has been a strong reduction of breast cancer mortality from the 1990s onwards. No important spatial disparities were observed. The factors studied (urbanisation, language, duration of population-based MSP and socioeconomic characteristics) did not seem to have an influence on them. Low participation rates and opportunistic screening use may have contributed to the low impact of MSPs.
citation Herrmann C, Vounatsou P, Thürlimann B, Probst-Hensch N, Rothermundt C, Ess S. Impact of mammography screening programmes on breast cancer mortality in Switzerland, a country with different regional screening policies. BMJ Open 2018; 8:e017806.
type journal paper/review (English)
date of publishing 14-03-2018
journal title BMJ Open (8/3)
ISSN electronic 2044-6055
pages e017806
PubMed 29540406
DOI 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-017806