Luisa Dillner wrote a statistically correct and informative article about breast screening in the Guardian recently; she has been replied to by Chris Askew, the chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer. He makes a big mistake. In his first paragraph, he says “Breakthrough Breast Cancer hopes this will not discourage women from attending their breast-screening appointments”. Later on, he says “The choice to attend breast screening can only be made by the individual, and women are encouraged to read the information leaflet that accompanies all invitations for screening”.
It does not add up. If you want to give women fair choices, you do not tell them what they should decide. If you want to campaign for women to take up screening appointments, you are making the decision for them.
Breast cancer charities in the UK are in a position of power, unfortunately. If they wanted to do some good, they could accept that screening is not a great test, and that women deserve better information and the ability to make a ‘choice’ – not a pre-booked appointment, assuming consent. Women are being served badly by breast cancer charities who continue to push breast screening, rather than realising that is is a test with numerous hazards and problems.
Two doctors from the Nordic Cancer centre have a paper in today’s JRSM about the lack of fair information on breast screening invitations – “Concerns about over-diagnosis have not been addressed either and official documents still downplay this most important harm of breast cancer screening.”
Why is this still going on? We need some sort of coalition For Sensible Screening to speak out more – anyone up for it?