Amidst the flood of stories that only reflect the benefits of cancer screening, here’s a story from the UK – and the Sunday Times – that delivers the perspective of the harms of screening that we seldom hear. It begins:
Jane Flanders was not aware of the risks involved in being screened for breast cancer when she received her invitation from the National Health Service four years ago.
After being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing extensive surgery, the mother of two now wishes she had not attended. She believes she was the victim of over-diagnosis.
The 56-year-old maths teacher from Basingstoke, Hampshire, was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, a dormant cancer which was not spreading and may never have caused problems.
Doctors advised her to have radical treatment — including a mastectomy — in case it might spread.
“Screening has caused me considerable and lasting harm. It has certainly not saved or prolonged my life,” she said.
“The reality of this diagnosis has been two wide excisions, one partial mutilation (sorry, mastectomy), one reconstruction, five weeks’ radiotherapy, chronic infection, four bouts of cellulitis (a bacterial infection), several general anaesthetics and more than a year off work.”
Flanders believes it is “outrageous” that the NHS has withheld information on the risks. The government has been forced to rewrite its advice to include warnings about potential harm caused by the screening process.