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31-08-2011 | General practice | Article

Breast screening under renewed fire


Free abstract

The NHS Breast Screening Programme exaggerates the benefits and downplays the harms associated with screening mammography, claim Cochrane Centre researchers.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Professors Peter Gøtzsche and Karsten Juhl Jørgensen accuse the Programme of "misinforming the public" and call for "more honesty" about the benefits and harms of breast screening.

"Spokespeople for the Programme have stuck to the beliefs about benefit that prevailed 25 years ago and continue to question the issue of overdiagnosis," they write.

In their article, Professors Gøtzsche and Jørgensen, from the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark, attempt to dissect the facts about breast screening from what they term "propaganda".

They say that material such as the Programme's Annual Review and leaflets inviting women for screening are particularly concerning. The wording is "ambiguous" and "contradictory" about the potential harms and makes "seriously misleading" claims about the benefits, they say.

"Women therefore cannot make an informed choice whether to participate in screening based on the information the Programme provides," the authors conclude. "This must be changed."

The paper will fuel the ongoing debate about the value of breast screening. A recent study published in the BMJ, reported on univadis GP News found that reductions in the number of women dying from breast cancer were not directly attributable to screening.

Responding to the latest criticism, Professor Julietta Patnick, Director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said that the most recent, peer-reviewed estimates suggest that screening saves one life for about 400 women screened over a 10-year period.

"The NHS Breast Screening Programme has always been, and remains, committed to helping women make an informed choice about breast screening," she added.

GP News is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Joanna Lyford