Can breast-cancer screenings do more harm than good?
Published 24/01/2013 | 06:00
Two expert doctors debate the merits of getting that mammogram. Anita Guidera reports
A UK study which has called for women to be properly warned that breast cancer screening might end in surgery that actually does them no good, has raised some critical questions about universal screening programmes.
The Independent Breast Cancer Screening Review estimated that for 10,000 UK women invited to screenings from the age of 50 for a 20-year period, about 681 cancers would be found, of which 129 would represent over-diagnosis, and 43 deaths from breast cancer would be prevented. But the challenge for doctors is that they cannot tell which cancers will spread quickly and which will lie essentially dormant, not causing harm.
The study concluded that NHS leaflets used to inform women of the programme focused too much on the fact that lives were saved and not enough on the potential risks to the individual.
Here, two Irish radiologists, with long careers as advocates of breast screening, present very different viewpoints on its implications.