'Benefits outweigh the risks': Breast cancer screening saves over twice as many as it harms, scientists calculate
Screening saves thousands of lives – but also results in many women wrongly being told they have tumoursAll women aged 50 to 70 are offered breast X-rays, or mammograms, for free on the NHS every three yearsStudy concludes benefits of X-rays far outweigh risks
08:34 GMT, 13 September 2012
The benefits of breast cancer screening programmes far outweigh the risks, according to research.
Screening saves thousands of lives – even though it also results in many women wrongly being told they have tumours.
All women aged 50 to 70 are offered breast X-rays, or mammograms, for free on the NHS every three years.
Effective: The benefits of breast cancer screening programmes far outweigh the risks, according to researchers
But recently the effectiveness of this screening program has been called into question, with several high-profile scientists claiming they cause more harm than good.
Now a study has concluded that the benefits of the X-rays far outweigh the risks – which can include healthy patients needlessly having to undergo distressing surgery or chemotherapy.
Scientists from Queen Mary University, London, calculate for that for every 1,000 women having regular screening for 20 years, nine lives will be saved.
Around 1.6million women regularly go for the X-rays in Britain so this works out as 14,400 lives being saved over two decades.
But the academics also calculate that out of the same 1,000 women having screening, four would be wrongly diagnosed and possibly made to have breasts removed or chemotherapy.
Only last month, two prominent American academics accused one of the world’s biggest breast cancer charity of ‘duping’ women by overselling the benefits of scans.
The Department of Health is currently overseeing an independent review into the NHS screening program and the results are expected to be published later in the autumn.
This particular study, published in the Journal of Medical Screening, looked at existing research involving five million women from various European countries.
It concluded that for every two women saved by the scans, one would be wrongly diagnosed.
'It is good news that lives saved by screening outweigh over-diagnosed cases by a factor of two to one'
Professor Stephen Duffy, of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine at Barts and The London School of Medicine & Dentistry, part of Queen Mary, University of London, said: ‘This is the only comprehensive review of the results of breast screening services in Europe.
‘It reports results from screening millions of women, and confirms that the screening services are delivering the benefits expected from the research studies conducted years ago.
'In particular, it is good news that lives saved by screening outweigh over-diagnosed cases by a factor of two to one.’
In a joint statement responding to the research, Chris Askew of Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Baroness Delyth Morgan of Breast Cancer Campaign, said: ‘This hugely detailed, impressive piece of work supports the widely held view that breast screening saves lives by helping to detect breast cancer early.
‘In England, an independent panel is conducting its own review of all the evidence underpinning the breast screening programme. We hope it will provide further clarity to women on the effectiveness of the breast screening programme.’
Last month Professor Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin of the U.S. Center for Medicine and the Media at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice accused a charity of giving women false hope over screening.
They claimed the charity, called Susan G Komen for the Cure, was using ‘Oscar-winning’ tactics to dupe women into having the X-rays.