We are all being encouraged to make informed decisions and choices about our health. But to do this we need communication around the benefits and risks of different screening and treatment options available to us to be as clear as possible.
Whilst recent media coverage has focused on the ‘harm’ attached to breast cancer screening…NHS Choices
has unwrapped the facts.
In the main, the media story has been the undoubted anxiety attached to false positive (or ‘false alarm’) results. Also concerns about ‘overdiagnosis’ (when patients receive cancer treatment even though their cancer was unlikely to affect their life expectancy.)
Helping to balance this, NHS Choices straightforward reporting of the findings of the Independent UK Panel on Breast Cancer Screening chaired by statistician, Professor Sir Nigel Marmot, will have done a lot to build understanding of the benefits v. risks of breast cancer screening.
The panel undertook an up-to-date assessment of the quantitative benefits and harms associated with population breast screening. It estimated that for every 10,000 women invited to screening from the age of 50 for 20 years:
681 breast cancers will be diagnosed
129 of these diagnoses will be overdiagnosed
43 deaths from breast cancer will be prevented
i.e. for every death prevented, there are estimated to be three cases of overdiagnosis. This means that of the around 307,000 women aged 50-52 who are invited to screening in the UK each year, about 3,700 women will be overdiagnosed and about 1,300 deaths from breast cancer will be prevented.
We are also advised that after initial screening, approximately 1 in 25 women are called back for further follow up and about 1 in 5 of those will have breast cancer (i.e. to further allay fears, 4 out of 5 do not have breast cancer).
It’s very good to see this information communicated so clearly. Also to see these figures as head counts rather than what can sometimes be more abstract notions such as percentages or odds.