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BACKGROUND: Because the incidence of breast cancer increases between 45 and 50years of age, a reconsideration is required of the current starting age (typically 50years) for routine mammography. Our aim was to evaluate the quantitative benefits, harms, and cost-effectiveness of lowering the starting age of breast cancer screening in the Dutch general population. METHODS: Economic modelling with a lifelong perspective compared biennial screening for women aged 48-74years and for women aged 46-74years with the current Dutch screening programme, which screen women between the ages of 50 and 74years. Tumour deaths prevented, years of life saved (YOLS), false-positive rates, radiation-induced tumours, costs and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) were evaluated. RESULTS: Starting the screening at 48 instead of 50 years of age led to increases in: the number of small tumours detected (4.0%), tumour deaths prevented (5.6%), false positives (9.2%), YOLS (5.6%), radiation-induced tumours (14.7%), and costs (4.1%). Starting the screening at 46 instead of 48 years of age increased the number of small tumours detected (3.3%), tumour deaths prevented (4.2%), false positives (8.8%), YOLS (3.7%), radiation-induced tumours (15.2%), and costs (4.0%). The ICER was €5600/YOLS for the 48-74 scenario and €5600/YOLS for the 46-74 scenario. CONCLUSIONS: Women could benefit from lowering the starting age of screening as more breast cancer deaths would be averted. Starting regular breast cancer screening earlier is also cost-effective. As the number of additional expected harms is relatively small in both the scenarios examined, and the difference in ICERs is not large, introducing two additional screening rounds is justifiable.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





81 - 88


Age, Breast neoplasm, Computer simulation, Cost-effectiveness analysis, Mammography, Mass screening, Aged, Breast Neoplasms, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Early Detection of Cancer, Female, Humans, Incidence, Mammography, Mass Screening, Middle Aged, Models, Theoretical