UK breast cancer screening under review


Breast cancer screening in the UK is under review following claims that it causes more harm than good.

The review will be led by Professor Mike Richards, National Cancer Director for England, who said he is taking the “current controversy very seriously”.

A recent review of clinical trials has said that for every 2,000 women screened in a 10-year period, one life would be saved, ten healthy women would undergo unnecessary treatment and at least 200 women would face psychological distress due to false positive results.

Susan Bewley, Professor of Complex Obstetrics at King’s College London, who has turned down breast cancer screening, 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.”

Screening programmes have helped doctors diagnose cancers earlier, but they also run the risk of false positives.

Breast cancer screening was introduced in the UK in 1988 and now offers tests to women over the age of 50 every three years.

The NHS says that 1,400 lives are saved every year through screening in England alone, and in 2002, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer estimated that screening reduced deaths from breast cancer by about 35%.

Chris Askew, Chief Executive at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “The earlier breast cancer is picked up the better for the one in eight women who are diagnosed every year with this disease, as treatment options are more likely to be less aggressive and have successful outcomes.”

But Sara Hiom, Director of Health Information at Cancer Research UK, who is leading the review, said: “Women need more accurate, evidence-based and clear information to be able to make an informed choice about breast screening.”