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Top health professionals criticise NHS over breast screening

19 February 2009

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A damning indictment of breast cancer screening by the NHS has been made in a letter in the Times newspaper signed by 23 top health professionals.

It says that the leaflet Breast Screening: The Facts “does not come close to telling the truth” about the risks amid “unethical” failures to keep women properly informed.

Publication of the letter follows a report in the British Medical Journal of an analysis by the Nordic Cochrane Centre of breast cancer and screening.

Team leader Peter Gotzsche concludes that the NHS leaflet is one-sided and misleading. He says that while the leaflet implies that the information can be trusted, “it is inadequate as a basis for informed consent”.

He says that if 2,000 women are screened for 10 years, only one will avoid dying from breast cancer while 10 will have part or the whole of a breast unnecessarily removed and receive radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

The Times letter concludes: “The most disturbing statistic is that none of the invitations for screening comes close to telling the truth.

“As a result, women are being manipulated, albeit unintentionally, into attending. It is therefore imperative that the NHS BSP (Breast Screening Programme) rewrites the information leaflets, for example by using the template provided by the Nordic Cochrane Centre, and leave it to the properly informed woman to accept the invitation or not.”

Copyright © Press Association 2009

The Times letter