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Margaret McCartney: Can we now talk openly about the risks of screening?

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: (Published 14 May 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2055
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner
  1. Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}
    Follow Margaret on Twitter at @mgtmccartney

The computer error that caused hundreds of thousands of women not to be invited for breast screening as intended has shone a new spotlight on cancer screening.

Jeremy Hunt has said that, because of this administrative error, “there may be between 135 and 270 women who have had their lives shortened as a result.”1 I find it totally bizarre that the health secretary should make such a statement when we don’t have evidence that breast screening reduces all cause mortality.2

It’s quite right to apologise when things go wrong, but Hunt’s statement didn’t make clear the difference between breast cancer specific mortality and all cause mortality. This doesn’t help women who haven’t been …

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