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How governments mislead women about breast cancer screening

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Health officials are seriously misleading women about the benefits of regular breast cancer screening, researchers say.
Women over the age of 50 are encouraged to have regular mammogram screening – but it’s advice based on evidence that is 25 out of date, and has since been proven to be wrong.
Health agencies, such as the UK’s National Health Service, are downplaying the very real risks of mammogram screening and exaggerating the benefits, say researchers from the Nordic Cochrane Centre.
Even the very latest leaflets about the mammogram service in the UK continue to perpetuate the myths about the benefits of regular screenings, although health officials had promised to modify their advice to women in the light of new research published over the past five years.
“If screening was a drug, it would have been withdrawn. You don’t market a drug that harms so many people for such uncertain benefit,” said researcher Peter Gotzsche, from the Nordic Cochrane Centre.
Mammograms detect all breast abnormalities, many of which are benign and yet which are still treated – unnecessarily – with surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The Cochrane researchers estimate that for every case of aggressive breast cancer that mammograms discover, they also find 10 benign cases that could be left well alone.
(Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 2011; 104: 361-9).

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