Breast Cancer Screening

A review into the effectiveness of breast cancer screening, written by Hannah Bellamy

The announcement that Professor Mike Richards will lead a review into breast cancer screening is good news. Since the programme began in 1988, with admirable intentions, the medical profession and women across the country have trusted in it as a safe and reliable service to detect breast cancer. The NHS assures us that it saves 1,400 lives in England alone. Unfortunately, this is not all that it appears and a full and thorough review into the benefits and risks is welcomed by our team.

The problems with breast cancer screening

The Cancer Recovery Foundation UK believe that breast cancer screening is something we should continue to do. We do not agree that mammograms should be commonly used as part of the process. Our research and experiences with breast cancer patients show that mammograms can be problematic because they are not the gold standard they are often trusted to be. A positive result does not mean a woman has cancer, but she may then experience treatment for cancer. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are women who receive a negative result who do in fact have cancer but who then worry less about continuing their own breast checks and may ignore other symptoms. The problems with mammograms are extensive:

· According to Dr. Susan Love, mammograms will miss between 9 and 20% of breast cancers

· In women under 50, at least 25% of tumours will be missed

· Approximately 5% of mammograms read as positive for cancer. Of that, 97.5% will be false positives and no cancer is present. These women and their families go through their heartache, and are often subjected to unnecessary treatments

· Mammograms have led to a dramatic increase in the diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a pre-invasive cancer. This is often treated with a lumpectomy followed by radiation, or even mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. However, 80% of all DCIS cases will never become invasive and threaten a woman’s health, so this invasive treatment in unnecessary.

· Detecting DCIS early does not reduce mortality rates for the women affected.

The mammograms themselves also offer a risk to women and can increase their chances of developing breast cancer, and spreading it within the body:

· Mammograms use radiation. Each exposure increases breast cancer risk, resulting in at least a 10% increased risk over ten years of pre-menopausal screening.

· The compression a breast must go under for a mammogram to take place can cause the spread of malignant cancers by rupturing small blood vessels in or around small, as yet undetected, breast cancers.

Is there an alternative?

If breast cancer screening continues, as we suggest it should, then it should be much less invasive and non-toxic and could be offered to women under the age of fifty too.

We advocate a clinical breast examination (a doctor feeling the breasts to detect lumps and abnormalities) annually, and the continued encouragement of women to check their own breasts.

If a lump is detected, then a mammogram should take place at this point. Research shows that it should be carried out within the first 14 days of a woman’s cycle if she is still menstruating to achieve the most accurate result possible.

Invest in prevention

While the NHS, pharmaceutical companies and charitable organisations focus their efforts and funds on encouraging detection and finding cures to the disease, very few are advancing prevention. Prevention can save lives, heartache and vast sums of money for the UK economy- it is currently estimated that cancer costs the UK economy £18billion annually, and that this will rise to £25billion by 2020 if we do not act.

World Cancer Research Fund has proven that 42% of breast cancer cases could be prevented if we adapt our lifestyles making changes to our diets and took part in more exercise. Making these simple changes is a much less invasive way of lowering your risk of not only developing breast cancer, but other cancers too.