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Wednesday 20th June 2018

Screening treatment concerns

4th March 2006

Around 10% of women who are screened for breast cancer could be given unnecessary treatment as a result, a study has suggested.
The research, published in the BMJ, was undertaken by Swedish scientists from Malmo University who looked at the cases of more than 42,000 women in a breast screening trial between 1976 to 1986.

The researchers accepted that screening can reduce deaths but say "over-diagnosis" is a problem.

Over-diagnosis is defined as cases of cancer that would never have come to the attention of doctors during a woman's lifetime if it were not for screening.

This can result in invasive treatment such as surgery and radiotherapy which might never have been necessary had the woman had not attended for breast screening.

But a spokeswoman for the NHS screening programme said the benefits outweighed the risks.

A recent report claimed the NHS breast screening programme saves the lives of 1,400 women in England each year.

In its editorial, the BMJ agreed.  "It is finally time to accept that, although breast screening by mammography is far from perfect, it is worthwhile."

But researchers from the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen, also reporting in he BMJ, said women should be given more information about the benefits and risks of breast screening. They found that information given to patients mentioned that a reduction in breast cancer was the main benefit of screening but said little about the risks.

They suggested consumer groups should be involved in compiling the information.

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