We compared short-term indicators for service mammography screening in Europe. Data were available from 17 programmes, although not all programmes provided a comprehensive reporting. More than 90% of the target population had been screened within the last 3 years in the WE trial, whereas only two-thirds of women in England and Copenhagen had been screened within the last 3 years, which will delay or reduce the effect of screening compared with the trial. Participation was highest in sparsely populated areas. Detection rates at first screen reached three times the baseline in Copenhagen, the Netherlands and North-West England. The clinical characteristics of screen-detected cases were badly reported. Given their importance for the long-term effect of screening, further data are warranted. Sensitivity and specificity could be measured only indirectly; they showed, however, considerable variation between programmes. Fyn, Florence and Stockholm had succeeded in combining high specificity with high sensitivity. With different recall policies, different proportions of women will experience a false-positive test; expected numbers after three screens were 14%, 10% and 1%, for England, Copenhagen and the Netherlands, respectively. Based on the observed wide variation in short-term indicators, a similar wide variation is expected in the effect of screening on breast cancer mortality.