BACKGROUND: Breast cancer remains the leading cause of female cancer death despite improvements in treatment and screening. Screening is often criticized for leading to overdiagnosis and overtreatment. However, few have attempted to identify overdiagnosed cases. PATIENTS AND METHODS: A large, consecutive series of patients treated for primary operable, screening-detected, breast cancer (n = 1610). Details from pathology and clinical reports, treatment and follow-up were available from our prospectively managed database. Univariate and multivariate Cox proportional models were used to study the prognostic variables in screening-detected breast cancers for distant metastatic and breast cancer-specific survival. RESULTS: We included 1610 patients. The mean/median follow-up was 6.0/6.0 years. Univariate analysis: tumor size, palpability, breast cancer phenotype and nodal status were predictors of distant metastasis and breast cancer-specific death. Multivariate analysis: palpability, breast cancer phenotype and nodal status remained independent prognostic variables. Palpability differed by breast cancer phenotype. CONCLUSION: Screening-detected breast cancer is associated with excellent outcome. Palpability, nodal status and breast cancer phenotype are independent prognostic variables that may select patients at increased risk for distant metastatic relapse and breast cancer-specific death. Overdiagnosed cases reside most likely in the nonpalpable node negative subgroup with a Luminal A phenotype.