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Smear tests and seat belts

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 12 May 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1188
  1. Neville W Goodman, consultant anaesthetist
  1. Bristol

    Will cervical cancer screening survive media misunderstanding?

    The Times editorial (4 May) got it right: “A collective panic over cervical cancer screening errors will achieve nothing.” The headline writers did not quite see it that way. If they had, the Times' front page headline would have read: “Cervical tests successful for two thirds of cancers.” Instead, they went for “Cervical tests fail to detect cancer in a third of cases.” By not including the words “shock” or “fears,” the Times' coverage of the audit of the Leicestershire cervical screening programme was slightly less alarmist than that of other broadsheets.

    In an unfortunate coincidence, the report into the locum work of the retired pathologist James Elwood—“who misread the cancer tests of more than 250 patients” (Daily Mail, 4 May)—was published on the same day as the Leicestershire audit. The Elwood case seems less one of mistaken pathological diagnosis—when his …

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