How the NHS failed me and mine.
What it did, to the most important person
in my life and how it could happen to you unless
we do something about it!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Screening for Cancer Fails to Prove its Worth.

I have talked at some length about Breast Cancer Screening  before, and accused those involved to be more interested in perpetuating the myth that 'screening saves lives' than in providing facts for women to make an informed decision. Well, the clamour is getting louder for 'real information' to be available for this and other screening protocols and what are the advocates doing to quell the disquiet? Closing their eyes, ears and more importantly their mouths.

The recent study in the BMJ showed clearly that screening (mammography) is not responsible for the reduction in Breast Cancer mortality seen in six Eurpoean populations. In fact, in a few of these countries, mortality was reducing prior to any screening protocols being in place. The response of the screening lobby   ( a powerful vested interest), has been resounding silence, to these obvious negative inputs to the argument. Displaying the trait it seems of the 'three wise monkeys', as Richard Smith  explained on his BMJ blog.

Screening for Bowel Cancer too has been having some bad press as the relative risks are presented as absolute in the leaflet provided to the prospective cohort (including me). In truth the risks are quite small and the relatively 'crude' methods involved in screening lead to many false positives, waits for confirmation, and much unneccessary treatments, investigations and, the attached risks of harm involved in colonoscopy are actually higher than the likelihood of Colerectal Cancer (much higher at 1 in 150) and the risks of  procedure causing perforation and the consequent risk of pertonitis is 1 in 1500. Risk of death is pretty low at 1 in 10,000, but that is close to the absolute risk anyway, which is less than 1 per 1000 in ten years of screening.

Mitzi Blennerhassett, wrote in Macmillan blogs about the dearth of information, and indeed the bias of that available and she is (thus far) a survivor of colerectal and breast cancer, so she talks from the frontline. The replies to the BMJ about the study also make fascinating reading, with much criticism of the lack of evidence and indeed the arrogance portrayed by most in the 'business' (for that is what is) when questioned as to the efficacy of mammography or indeed most forms of cancer screening.

The NHS spends vast amounts on these protocols, allegedly to save us from 'harm' and an untimely end, but fails consumately in simple areas of diagnosis of illness in so many patients, treats the elderly with appalling disdain, even cruelty. Is lacking in 'adequate out of hours' trauma provision. Trains Doctors to be patently less good at the job than in the past, then 'throws' them into the maelstrom of A&E with little or no mentoring or backup. When scientific evidence is presented that indicates that a drug or procedure is harmful, especially Primary interventions for prevention using 'surrogate markers' or end points, rather than a patient actually being ill, they ignore it!

Prof. Michael Baum with others, ( 3 pages of them) wrote to the Sunday Times about this lack of information and the virtual conspiracy of silence that exists around the harms, way back in 2009. He was ignored. He wrote again recently but that's behind a paywall now so I can't post that link. The signatories are seeking  a judicial review of the screening programme because they are so incensed by the lack of information and potential harms it causes. The conspiracy of silence continues with evidence stacking up in the aisles that we do little to end the tyranny of Cancer but much to find it, where it doesn't exist and even more to treat it with questionable drugs and procedures that may in fact add to it's virulence. A scientifically informed choice is what is needed and an NHS dedicated to curing the sick and the lame, and giving comfort to the dying, not that which we have now.

1 comment:

  1. Hi
    You may want to take a look at the online rapid responses to editorial 'Benefits of cancer screening take years to accumulate' by Julietta Patnick, Director NHS Cancer Screening Programmes: - also excellent article in Canadian Women's Health Network by Cornelia Baines posted on my blog with heaps more re screening

    With best wishes
    Mitzi Blennerhassett