NHSBSP responds to Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine paper

Published 1st September, 2011

Professor Julietta Patnick CBE, Director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said:

"These same criticisms have been trotted out a number of times before by the same authors. On each occasion, they have been comprehensively rebutted in the public domain by various experts – something the authors fail to mention in their review. For the record once again, calculations of the effectiveness of the NHS Breast Screening Programme by a number of different experts including the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), have been based on real randomised trial data, not observations and highly subjective judgements of the quality of others’ clinical trials. The most recent, peer reviewed estimates suggest that screening saves one life for about 400 women screened over a ten year period. We know that 97% of women with screen-detected cancers are alive five years later compared to just over 80% of all women who were diagnosed without screening and attending for screening lowers a woman's risk of having a mastectomy.

"The NHS Breast Screening Programme has always been, and remains, committed to helping women make an informed choice about breast screening. The new breast screening leaflet, developed independently of the NHS by a leading team from the University of Oxford, aims to help women assess both the benefits and risks of screening. It covers false positives, false negatives, human error and anxiety, and the fact that screening can find cancers which are treated but which may not otherwise have been found during a woman’s lifetime. Additionally, Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) is now also covered in the leaflet for the first time. A draft of the leaflet was rigorously tested in a series of focus groups with women who were within the screening age range and drawn from different demographics. The language used in the leaflet reflects the comments and preferences of those women.

"The authors of this new paper claim Danish data show that screening increases the uses of mastectomies. We know from British data that screening reduces the risk of mastectomy. The discrepancies may reflect differences between the two countries in population and medical practice. In England, roughly a quarter of woman detected by breast screening undergo mastectomy, compared to half of women presenting with symptoms."

Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine paper

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