Page 72 of the Independent Breast Screening Review states that members of the focus groups who were consulted for their views as part of that review felt ‘that screening was an offer many women will feel is worth accepting: the treatment of over-diagnosed cancer may cause suffering and anxiety but that suffering but that suffering is worth the gain from the potential reduction in breast cancer mortality.’ I wonder on what they based those views – and what information they were given.
I wonder if they if realised that having ‘perhaps a 1% chance of having a cancer diagnosed and treated that would never have caused problems had she not been screened’ equated to 4000 UK women pa treated unnecessarily; and now, having perhaps understood this from the press, whether their views have changed.
I wonder if any of them have any idea that their risk of stroke or heart attack is probably much greater than that of breast cancer. I wonder if they have any idea that when the ‘discomfort’ of biopsy is mentioned, ‘pain’ would be more accurate. Do they realise just what suffering is involved in becoming (unnecessarily) a breast cancer patient? Apart from the consequences of the label – for family, for insurance – and treatment side effects – the long term side effects can mean life has changed forever. Take the lifelong risk of lymphoedema for example, a common side-effect of cancer treatments, especially of breast cancer treatments, which can mean the need lifelong self management (daily sessions of special self massage), to have to wear a thick elastic sleeve/support garment, whatever the weather (and on holiday), regular travel to clinics for specialised treatments, constant risk of cellulitis and hospitalisation with every insect bite or scratch… I could go on.
Women have been ‘taught’ to rely on breast screening. They each believe it will save, or has saved, their life because this message, repeated over years, has worked like indoctrination, however untrue. Breast cancer charities have repeated the mantra and pushed for more and more screening on the back of unsubstantiated figures – they would risk losing face if they did an abrupt about-turn.
Even the ‘1300 lives saved’ quoted in the Independent Review will be shown to be incorrect, being based on a mixture of good and poor research – not factoring in all-cause mortality (eg deaths from heart problems due to radiotherapy).
Women are being told the decision on whether or not to be screened is a personal one for them to make, yet the message ‘we still recommend screening’ and ‘screening saves lives’ is still being given by those in authority and breast cancer charities. It is not their place to recommend or otherwise. It is merely their place to offer full and honest information. As they keep telling us: the decision is the woman’s.