Azara Blog: Breast cancer screening perhaps does more harm than good

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Date published: 2006/10/18

The BBC says:

Concerns have been raised that breast cancer screening might lead to some women undergoing unnecessary treatment.

Researchers looked at international studies on half a million women.

They found that for every 2,000 women screened over a decade, one will have her life prolonged, but 10 will have to undergo unnecessary treatment.
The report, published in the Cochrane Library, involved a review of breast cancer research papers from around the world.

The scientists found mammograms did reduce the number of women dying from the disease.

But they also discovered it was diagnosing woman with breast cancer who would have survived without treatment, meaning they were undergoing unnecessary chemotherapy, radiotherapy or mastectomies.

About a fifth of cancers picked up by screening are in the milk ducts of the breast.

Some of these cancers will progress while others will not - but there is no way of predicting what will happen.

This means women and doctors have to decide whether or not to risk doing nothing, or go ahead with treatment which might be unnecessary.

They also revealed a further 200 women out of every 2,000 experienced distress and anxiety because of false positives - a result that indicated a cancer was present but was later found to be wrong.
In 2001, the same authors concluded there was no convincing evidence that screening programmes reduce mortality from the disease.

Not that surprising and not that new (except for quantification). The key finding is that there are apparently ten times as many false positives as actual positives. Women should certainly be warned about this, loud and clear. Unfortunately the findings go against the current dogma, so the health professionals will likely just pretend the study never happened.

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