Breast Cancer Screening Review

As young women, we have a relatively small risk (5%) of getting breast cancer. However, the chances of us suffering from it in our lifetime are a frightening one in nine, and most of us will know a friend or relative who has tragically died from the horrific disease. Isn’t it therefore best to catch breast cancer early, in order to begin treating the disease as efficiently as possible and save lives?

Whilst the NHS has always advocated regular breast cancer screening, recent controversy has arisen over its effectiveness, as worrying evidence found that screening 2,000 women over a ten year period saved only one life, caused unnecessary treatment for ten healthy women and created severe psychological distress for over 200 women, due to false positive results. The review concluded that it was “not clear whether screening does more good than harm”. As a result, Mike Richards, National Cancer Director for England, announced in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday that an independent review was being carried out by Cancer Research UK and he was “taking the current controversy very seriously.”

Susan Bewley, Professor of Complex Obsetetrics at King’s College London personally turned down breast cancer screening, despite having a family history of the illness, stating “the NHS breast screening programme is not telling the whole truth”. She also warned Professor Richards, “The distress of overdiagnosis and decision making when finding lesions that might, or might not, be cancer that might, or might not, require mutilating surgery is increasingly being exposed.”

Professor Richards responded by stating that research suggested that up to two and a half lives were saved for every over-diagnosed case. In the meantime, the Department of Health are still advising women to go for breast screening checks when invited, with a spokesperson stating, “The best available evidence shows that screening saves lives by detecting cancers earlier than they would otherwise have been.”

Although students are too young to be routinely screened, it is still vital to carry out self-checks on your breasts regularly. Breast Cancer Care advises to check for changes such as a difference in size or shape, any redness or rashes on the skin or around the nipples, lumps or thickening, discharge from the nipples, nipple inversion or breast pain. If you notice any of these signs, visit your GP at the University Health Centre (telephone number 02476524888) or visit NHS Direct Online (


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