Cancer screening 'blights ten lives for every one saved'

The importance of mammograms has been questioned by doctors (posed by a model)

Thousands of women have had unnecessary surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy as a result of routine breast cancer screening, doctors have warned.

For each woman whose life is saved, ten healthy ones needlessly receive mastectomies and other treatment, a study found.

Experts said the NHS should do more to warn women of the high risk of a false positive.

But cancer groups fear the news may lead to more deaths by putting women off the screenings, which are estimated to save more than 1,400 lives a year in England alone.

All women from 50 to 70 are invited for the checks every three years. Around 1.7million had them last year out of the 2.2million who were offered appointments.

But some experts say they are not sensitive enough to show which cases will lead to fatal tumours, and those that pose no threat.

More than 45,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year and around 12,300 die.

Twenty-three doctors, surgeons, academics and health specialists claimed yesterday: 'There are harms associated with early detection of breast cancer by screening that are not widely acknowledged.

'There is evidence to show that up to half of all cancers and their precursor lesions that are found by screening might not lead to any harm to the woman during her lifespan.

Hazel Thornton (see case study)

'Yet, if found at screening, they potentially label the woman as a cancer patient: She may then be subjected to the unnecessary traumas of surgery, radiotherapy and perhaps chemotherapy, as well as suffer the potential for serious social and psychological problems.

'The stigma may continue into the next generation as her daughters can face higher health insurance premiums when their mother's over-diagnosis is misinterpreted as high risk.

'We believe that women should be clearly informed of these harms to make their own choice about screening.'

Dr Paul Pharoah, Cancer Research UK Senior Clinical Research Fellow, University of Cambridge, and Professor Michael Baum, Emeritus Professor of Surgery at University College London, were among the experts who wrote to The Times.

They criticise information sent to women eligible for the checks for not being honest, adding: 'None of the invitations for screening come close to telling the truth. As a result, women are being manipulated, albeit unintentionally, into attending.'

Jeremy Hughes, of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: 'Screening allows early diagnosis and potentially less invasive treatment for breast cancer.'