NHSBSP responds to allegations that one in three breast cancers detected in screened women is overdiagnosed

Published 10th July, 2009

Professor Julietta Patnick, Director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, has issued the following statement in reply to the research published in today's BMJ.

"1 in 8 (12.5 per cent) women diagnosed with breast cancer through the NHS Breast Screening Programme would not have had the cancer diagnosed if they had not gone for screening. However, thanks to screening, one extra woman's life will be saved for every 8 women diagnosed with breast cancer. These statistics are based upon rigorous analysis of the NHS Breast Cancer Screening Programme's statistics - almost 20 years worth of data.

"Screening reduces cancer mortality through early detection, making treatment more likely to be effective. By bringing forward the date of diagnosis (through early detection), we find those cancers that would otherwise not be caught until later in life by which time they could be fatal.

"Without this early detection, screening would not work. It is estimated that breast screening saves 1,400 lives every year in England through early detection of the disease.

"The Nordic paper appears to be highly selective in the statistics that it used; it ignores women's lifestyle changes which have increased breast cancer incidence in England, such as women waiting longer before having their first child and taking HRT."

For further information, please contact the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes' press office on 020 7400 4499 or e-mail .