Mammograms ‘see’ three cancers that aren’t there for every one that is, UK government admits
Women are finally being told the truth about the limitations and dangers of routine mammography screening for breast cancer. A new NHS (National Health Service) leaflet warns that the technology is three times more likely to pick up a benign abnormality—which may result in chemotherapy or a mastectomy—than an actual life-threatening tumour.
The new leaflet, which will be made available to the 3 million women aged between 50 and 70 who are each year invited to have a routine mammogram screening in the UK, points out that for every life saved by the technology, it will detect a benign abnormality in three people, and trigger a course of chemotherapy or breast-removal. The most common detection is DCIS (ductal carcinoma in-situ), which, despite its name, only very rarely develops into cancer.
The honesty of the leaflet is surprising as a government report last year tried to put a positive spin on the screening programme. It claimed mammography saved 1,300 lives a year, although it admitted that a further 4,000 women also underwent unnecessary treatment.
But even this partially optimistic review was criticised by other reviewers, who point out that it relied on old data from a time before women were as conscious of diet and lifestyle changes as they are today. Taking more recent data into account, Oxford University researchers concluded that mammography was hardly saving any lives at all.