Women ‘misled’ on screening for breast cancer

Women undergoing NHS breast cancer screening are being “misinformed” and are not told about the harms of over-diagnosis, researchers have said.

Those running the NHS breast cancer screening programme have “stuck to” beliefs from 25 years ago about the benefit of mammograms and supply women with “astonishingly misleading” statistics on death rates, they added.

Furthermore, the NHS fails to give women “an informed choice” because its literature lacks balance and ignores criticism of the programme.

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Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, researchers from the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark said the risks of over-diagnosis had been downplayed and called for more honesty from those behind the NHS programme.

In 2009, experts from the same institution said one in three breast cancers detected by screening may actually be harmless.

Data from the UK, Canada, Australia, Sweden and Norway showed some women undergo unnecessary treatment for cancers that are unlikely to kill them or spread.

Some cancers grow so slowly that the patient dies of other causes first, or the cancer remains dormant or regresses.