Breast screening advice updated amid controversy over harms

  • Posted

Posted 01/11/2012

The BBC reported earlier this week that women invited for breast cancer screening in the UK are to be given more information about the potential harms of being tested.

An independent review was set up to settle a fierce debate about whether the measure did more harm than good. It showed that for every life saved, three women had treatment for a cancer which would never have been fatal.

The debate centres around the concept of “over diagnosis” – that is screening which correctly identifies a tumour, but one which would never have caused harm. It leads to women who would have lived full and healthy lives having treatments, such as surgery, hormone therapy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which have considerable side-effects. There is no way of knowing which tumours will be deadly and which could have been left alone.

The Government has said that this information will be included on leaflets to give women an “informed choice”.

Cancer charities have said women should still take up the offer of screening.

Sophie Bales, a medical injury solicitor at Ashtons Legal comments:

“In theory, there is nothing wrong with giving women clear and balanced information regarding breast screening. However, it must not be forgotten that breast screening saves lives. Cancer charities also recommend that on balance, women should attend their screening. Failing to attend a screening could lead to devastating consequences.

It is true that all tumours identified may not require treatment. Therefore, if a tumour is identified during a screening, the doctor should clearly consider and explain the possible options and give their patient all the information they need to make informed decisions regarding treatment and/or management of the tumour”.Click here for further information about our Medical Injury Law services.


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