Breast Cancer Screening Debate: Lifesaver or Dangerous?

Experts disagree on whether the benefits of breast cancer screening outweigh the risks. Screening finds some tumors early, but also leads to overdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment.

Michael Baum, professor emeritus at University College London, argues that breast cancer screening does more harm than good. He estimates that for every 10,000 women screened, 3-4 deaths are prevented but 2.7-9.25 die from long-term toxicity of radiotherapy used to treat tumors found through screening.

However, a recent UK report led by Michael Marmot concluded screening is worthwhile, preventing 43 breast cancer deaths per 10,000 women at the cost of 19% overdiagnosis. Of 681 cancers found with screening, 129 would not have progressed to harm women in their lifetimes. Still, Marmot supports continued screening.

Baum disputes these findings. He argues the analysis did not account for improved breast cancer treatments, reducing the benefits of screening. Also, more recent observational data shows even higher overdiagnosis rates up to 50%.

In summary, while screening finds some cancers early, it also leads to overdiagnosis and unnecessary procedures. Experts disagree on whether the benefits outweigh these harms. More research on screening’s risks and benefits is needed.