Bloomberg News

Breast Cancer Screening Causes More Harm Than Good, Study Says

December 13, 2011

Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Screening for breast cancer may cause more harm than good because it leads to unnecessary surgery, British researchers said.

Screening may lead to abnormal results that turn out to be normal and treatment of harmless cancers that would never have caused symptoms or death, according to research led by James Raftery, a professor of health-technology assessment at the University of Southampton. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, analyzed 100,000 women ages 50 and over and found that the inclusion of false positives and unnecessary surgery reduced the benefits of screening by half.

The study follows the Forrest report of 1986, which measured costs and benefits from screening in quality-adjusted life years. That study omitted harmful effects from screening, the researchers said.

“Harms largely offset the gains up to 10 years, after which the gains accumulate at an increasing rate,” Raftery wrote in the published paper. “The meaning and implications of overdiagnosis and overtreatment need to be much better explained and communicated to any woman considering screening.”

More research is required on the extent of unnecessary treatment and the impact on quality of life, the researchers said.

--Editors: Bruce Rule, Chris Staiti

To contact the reporter on this story: Makiko Kitamura in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at

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