Further Debate over Breast Cancer Screening
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Today sees the publication of the results of another study looking at the problem of over-diagnosis of breast cancer in the Annals of Internal Medicine, an American journal. The study considered the data available from the Norwegian breast screening programme and again concluded that there is a significant rate of over-diagnosis of breast cancer resulting in treatment for breast cancer which would never have caused significant symptoms during the woman's natural lifetime.
An important factor that has to be taken into account though, is that there is no way of knowing for sure which cancers will cause symptoms and possibly death, and which will not. Screening mammograms are intended to pick up the presence of potentially suspicious growths, which should then lead to further tests being performed, including a biopsy. This should identify whether or not the growth is malignant. Histopathologists and oncologists can look at cytology samples and advise statistically which cancers are more likely to cause problems, but no-one can give a guarantee. Most women would simply prefer not to run the risk and choose to undergo treatment.
In this regard, I have also reviewed the comments of readers on coverage of this story in the Daily Mail Online. Most readers appear to be voicing the opinion that they would rather be over-diagnosed than under-diagnosed, and as a solicitor who has acted for women where there has been a negligent delay in the diagnosis of breast cancer, I am inclined to agree.
Senior Solicitor - Clinical Negligence team
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