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Breast Cancer Screening Leads to Overtreatment for Many Older Women: Study
For every older woman's life saved by breast cancer screening, about three other women are unnecessarily treated for slow-growing cancers that would never threaten their lives, according to an expert panel in Britain.
Their review of evidence from 11 trials in the U.S., U.K., Canada and Sweden confirmed findings from other studies that breast cancer screening for women over 50 saves lives, the Associated Press reported.
However, that screening also leads to what is referred to as overdiagnosis or overtreatment.
"It's clear that screening saves lives," Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research U.K., told the AP "But some cancers will be treated that would never have caused any harm and unfortunately, we can't yet tell which cancers are harmful and which are not."
The study was published online Tuesday in The Lancet. The expert panel was commissioned by Cancer Research U.K. and Britain's department of health.
The review findings were welcomed by some critics of breast cancer screening.
"Cancer charities and public health authorities have been misleading women for the past two decades by giving too rosy a picture of the benefits," Karsten Jorgensen, a researcher at the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Copenhagen, Denmark, told the AP.
"It's important they have at least acknowledged screening causes substantial harms," said Jorgensen, who added that countries should now re-evaluate their breast cancer screening programs.
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