Women who missed out on mammograms due to a computer error should ignore invitations for a ‘catch-up’ scan, according to an architect of the NHS breast cancer screening programme.
The scans, being offered to 309,000 women now in their 70s, will not save lives but merely lead to unnecessary treatment, said Professor Michael Baum.
On Wednesday, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that 450,000 women aged 68 to 71 had not been invited to their final routine breast cancer scan. He apologised, and said that between 135 and 270 women may ‘have had their lives shortened’.
Prof Baum said if a woman in her 70s asked him if she should attend a catch-up mammogram, he would dissuade her ‘because there’s no data to support it’.
The professor, who helped launch screening in the 1980s, said there was no firm evidence screening saved lives overall.
And for women in their 70s the balance was likely to be tipped towards health harm, he said, because breast cancers in the elderly tended to be less aggressive.
He said that for every death from breast cancer averted by screening, ‘gold standard’ studies showed another life was lost – possibly from negative effects of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.