Medicine has persisted with the idea that screening for breast cancer saves lives. But a new study has discovered that breast cancer screening does nothing of the sort.
The researchers say their new study is the first to use data from clinical practice as opposed to the tightly controlled tests that have been used in previous studies.
The study team, from the University of Washington School of Medicine, looked at the records of 1351 women who had died from breast cancer between 1983 and 1998, and compared them against a group of 2501 women, who were matched for age and risk of developing breast cancer, but who were free of cancer. If screening works, the study team surmised, there should be more women in the cancer-free group who had been screened.
To their surprise, this was not the case. Of the cancer group, 66 per cent of the women had been screened compared with 64 per cent of the women in the cancer-free group.
In other words, just as many women who had died from breast cancer had been screened as those who didn't have the disease, which suggests that screening either didn't detect the tumour in time, or didn't detect it at all (J Natl Cancer Inst, 2005; 97: 1035-43).