Breast cancer screen debate

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ONE of Wigan’s top health chiefs has rubbished suggestions that screening for breast cancer can do more harm than good.

Dr Kate Ardern, Wigan’s Executive Director of Public Health, has hit back at controversial claims that the screening process can lead to “overdiagnosis” - that is screening which correctly identifies a tumour, but one which would never have caused harm.

A review published in a medical journal has said that this 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 independent review panel was led by Prof Michael Marmot, from University College London. He said screening had “contributed to reducing deaths” but also “resulted in some overdiagnosis”.

He said it was “vital” women were told about the potential harms and benefits before going for a mammogram

Prof Richards said: “My view is that the screening programme should happen, we should invite women to be screened and give women the information to make their own choice.”

However, Dr Ardern believes that the claims are false and that breast screening saves lives.

Dr Ardern said: “The long-standing programme for screening for breast cancer is based on sound evidence and is supported by Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Campaign and Breast Cancer Care.

“Screening saves lives and we continue to encourage all women to attend their screening appointments.

“In the future women will be given clear and balanced information to highlight the potentially harmful effects that anti-cancer treatment can have that will help them make an informed decision about treatments available.”

Screening has been a fixture in diagnosing breast cancer for more than two decades. Women aged between 50 and 70 are invited to have a mammogram every three years.