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Breast Cancer Screening Scandal: Doctors Warn Against Catch-up Scans

Discussion in 'Radiology' started by Egyptian Doctor, May 8, 2018.

  1. Egyptian Doctor

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    Women who did not undergo routine breast cancer screening because of a computer glitch should not attend catch-up appointments, a group of doctors say.

    They are being told to "carry on with their lives" as the programme can do "more harm than good".

    In a letter published in The Times, 15 medical professionals including GPs and university professors said women aged 70 to 79 who have been offered the checks "would be well advised to look this gift horse in the mouth" and should only seek medical help if they notice symptoms.

    The letter, which includes the signatures of Susan Bewley, professor of women's health at King's College London, and Michael Baum, professor emeritus of surgery at University College London, warns that women should not be subjected to worry or "fear-mongering".

    The doctors write: "The breast screening programme mostly causes more unintended harm than good, which is slowly being recognised internationally.

    "Many women and doctors now avoid breast screening because it has no impact on all-cause death."

    The doctors said claims of lives being saved by the programme are counteracted by deaths resulting from the interventions.

    They wrote: "It unquestionably increases mastectomies. Although counterintuitive, catching some things that look like cancer down a microscope (before it exists) can be too early and unnecessary.

    "Conversely, the most dangerous, advanced cancers are not prevented by screening programmes."

    Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed that 450,000 women aged 68 to 71 had not been invited to their final routine breast cancer screening because of a computer error.

    Women in England aged between 50 and 70 are currently automatically invited for breast cancer screening every three years.

    Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that call handlers for the Government's breast screening hotline are not medically trained and are relying on a "cheat sheet" of symptoms.

    Concerns have been raised that mistakes could be made because the handlers have received just one hour of training, the paper claims.

    Mr Hunt announced an independent review into the computer error which was discovered in January but dates back to 2009 and could mean hundreds of women's lives were cut short.

    The hotline - run by outsourcing firm Serco - has received more than 10,000 calls since the error was revealed.

    Serco said its call handlers were taking details using information provided by Public Health England (PHE) and would later put women in touch with health professionals.

    However, The Guardian quotes an anonymous member of staff saying: "I felt ashamed knowing what had happened to these women, taking these calls when I am not medically trained, have no counselling background and am in no position to help them."

    Another said she was afraid a lack of knowledge from those taking calls would "cause more mistakes".

    Hotline workers were given a booklet that listed breast cancer symptoms that they could go through with callers if they asked, the paper reports.

    In response, Serco said its call handlers were "trained and experienced in providing contact services on behalf of public service customers".

    A spokesman added: "They are using information and advice provided by Public Health England and are required to collect details of women who believe they have missed screening, so they can be contacted by health professionals, and to set out the options available."

    PHE said "well-trained staff" would ensure callers "receive the best possible information and support".

    A spokesman added: "We are aware that the helpline is busy, particularly at peak times. We have built additional resilience into the system to ensure that as many people are able to receive support as possible."

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