Breast cancer screening useless

I hate to say ‘I told you so’. I hate to say it about so many things I have said since I started this ‘mission’ in cancer 10 years ago. The problem is that when you come afresh, with no baggage, no vested interests, no politics, you see things more clearly. 

Now here’s another. I told you so. ‘Breast cancer screening fails to cut deaths from breast cancer’. I have been absolutely consistent about this. Why? Because research has been saying this for nearly 10 years and I read and use research. But for some reason the powers that be have consistently ignored it.

Be clear: This is not my conclusion but that that of a ‘landmark study’.  To quote: ‘25 years of breast cancer screening has failed to significantly reduce deaths from the disease, according to a landmark study’ 

While the number of women who die from breast cancer has decreased over the last 20 years, there is “no evidence” to suggest this is because of screening programmes according to researchers from Oxford University (Journal Royal Society of Medicine). 

After research from America and the Nordic Cochrane Centre showed that screening mammograms caused more harm than good, we also presented research that if women had DNA mutations the last thing they should have was an annual mammogram. Several months ago, the Department of Health review also found that for every case of breast cancer ‘diagnosed’ at least three women underwent treatment for cancer which would never have harmed or killed them!

Despite all this Cancer Research UK and the powers that be have been insisting in recent months that screening mammograms save roughly 1500 lives a year. There is simply no evidence for this. It borders on quackery. 

The new study even showed that the largest drop in mortality has been in women under the age of 40, who are not routinely screened for the disease. 

Toqir Mukhtar, of the Department of Public Health (click here), who led the latest study said, “We found in our study that the unscreened age group had the greatest reduction in breast cancer mortality, which shows you that screening has not delivered the desired effect at a population level.” 

About 1.6 million women are tested each year under the NHS breast screening programme, with women aged 50 to 70 automatically invited for screening every three years by their GP. The programme, which cost £75 million in 2011, is being extended and will apply to all women aged 47 to 73 by 2016. 

The new study examined 39 years’ worth of data on breast cancer deaths for different age groups. 20,000 medical records from Oxford were studied, with each listing breast cancer on the death certificate. This was then compared with general data for England on deaths where breast cancer was specifically marked as the underlying cause. 

If the screening programme had been responsible for lowering death rates, the scientists explained, they would expect to see the largest decrease among women who would have been offered at least one screening test. They did not.

At the national level it seems better treatment from drugs and complementary therapies are likely to be contributing to the better survival rate. 20 years ago hardly any women used a complementary therapy. Now almost two thirds use one or more.

To read the sorry ten year tale click here.  


April - June Cancer Watch 2013
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