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Monday 26th August 2019

Breast cancer screening reviewed

26th October 2011

Some experts have argued that breast cancer screening may be causing more harm than good.


The claim comes as England’s national cancer director Professor Mike Richards has announced a review into the evidence for breast cancer screening in the UK amid controversy about its effectiveness.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, he revealed he will lead the review along with Cancer Research UK and that he was taking the current controversy “very seriously.”

Screening was introduced in the UK in 1988 and the NHS says 1,400 lives are saved in England alone through it while the World Health Organization has estimated screening reduced deaths by 35%.

However, other experts remain concerned over the risk of false positives.

A review of clinical trials involving a total of 600,000 women concluded it was “not clear whether screening does more good than harm.”

In a letter to Professor Richards, Professor of complex obstetrics at King’s College London, Susan Bewley, said: “The distress of overdiagnosis and decision making when finding lesions that might, or might not, be cancer that might, or might not, require mutilating surgery is increasingly being exposed.”

Professor Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, has welcomed the review while the director of health information at Cancer Research UK Sara Hiom said: “Women need more accurate, evidence-based and clear information to be able to make an informed choice about breast screening.”

Breakthrough Breast Cancer maintained screening was vital as it can “detect breast cancer at the earliest possible stages when no other symptoms are obvious.”


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