Increase In Breast Screening Advice Should Not Deter Women From Seeking Treatment, Expert Lawyers Say

Women Urged To Continue To Seek Early Advice And Treatment


A medical law specialist at a leading law firm is supporting plans for women to be given more information about breast cancer screening, but has warned the controversial debate should not deter women from seeking life-saving medical advice and early treatment.

An independent review, published in the Lancet medical journal, has been set up to settle a debate about whether women should be advised about the possible detrimental effects of breast cancer tests and treatments.

The debate centres around the concept of ‘over diagnosis’ where screening identifies tumours that may never have been harmful if not treated. It leads to women who would have lived full and healthy lives having treatments – such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiotherapy and surgery – which can have serious side effects.

The review showed that for every life saved, three women had treatment for cancer which would never have been fatal. It said screening saved 1,307 lives every year in the UK but led to 3,971 women having unnecessary treatment.

Sarah Coles, a medical law specialist at law firm Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office, has joined cancer charities who recommend woman should still take up the offer of screening.

She said: “Doctors have been using scans to diagnose breast cancer for more than two decades, and women aged between 50 and 70 are invited to have a mammogram every three years. We know that screening saves thousands of lives every year because the earlier it is detected the better. I’m sure many women are reassured that by having regular tests any worrying signs of cancer will be picked up by specialist doctors quickly.

“Being diagnosed with cancer is frightening and an horrific experience for anyone but I am sure any woman would prefer to know that everything possible is being done to prevent any potentially cancerous cells spreading and becoming untreatable, rather than being wary of how treatment may affect them.

“We agree that women, should be given as much unbiased information as possible about cancer, its treatment and how it will affect them but we don’t want this review to have a detrimental effect on the number of women who seek advice and go for tests because they are scared of the consequences.”