Breast screening may do more harm than good, say medics
Published 27/10/2011 | 05:00
An independent review of breast screening is under way in Britain after researchers suggested the harms may outweigh the benefits.
Researchers from the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark claimed women undergoing breast cancer screening are being "misinformed" and are not told about the harms of over-diagnosis.
They said the harms of breast screening may outweigh the benefits and that screening information should be more balanced.
The British national cancer director, Professor Mike Richards, has now initiated an independent review of research evidence after an argument arose among academics over the worth of mammograms.
In an open letter, published in today's edition of the British Medical Journal, Professor Susan Bewley, consultant obstetrician at King's College, London, agreed that mammograms may not be as beneficial as many believe.
She writes that she found the NHS leaflets "exaggerated benefits and did not spell out the risks", adding: "The oft-repeated statement that '1,400 lives a year are saved' has not been subjected to proper scrutiny. Even cancer charities use lower estimates."
"I am not convinced that you have challenged your experts competently and mercilessly.
"Thus I support the calls for an independent review of the evidence -- a review whose findings will be widely and properly disseminated, and that will adjust screening policy appropriately."
In a letter of response, also published in the journal, Prof Richards revealed the initiative which he instigated "some weeks ago".
Prof Richards said that "screening programmes should be based on the best available evidence".
Based on current advice, breast screening saves lives and the benefits considerably outweigh the harms.
But he said he believes that the controversy should be resolved, so he launched the review.
Once concluded, it will be presented to experts from both sides of the argument.
"I hope this reassures you that I take the current controversy very seriously," he wrote.