University of Leicester eBulletin

Women Need Better Information About Breast Screening
Study Results Published in British Medical Journal

July 2003

Women need better information about routine mammography 
BMJ Volume 327, pp101-3

Information about breast screening must be improved if women are to fully understand both the benefits and the potential harms in order to make an informed choice, argue researchers in this week's BMJ.

Although breast screening is well established in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, its value continues to be debated. Estimates of the effect of screening on breast cancer deaths vary widely, and women are given limited information in terms that are often hard to understand.

As a result, harms are often dismissed as a price worth paying for the perceived general good and few people appreciate that screening contributes to the rise in incidence of breast cancer, write the authors.

Tensions exist between the demands of the screening industry's "pursuit of good uptake" and properly promoting informed choice for citizens as required by the GMC guidelines, they add. Although much research has been done, so far there has been negligible improvement in NHS screening leaflets and public misconceptions.

The focus of research into screening programmes should not be to improve uptake but to develop flexible decision aids to meet women's desires for balanced information.

It is unacceptable that women taking tests continue to suffer damage and regret because they found out the harms of screening from experience. Unless women are able to make true informed choices, funding for the service will continue to be questioned, they conclude.


Hazel Thornton, Honorary Visiting Fellow, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Leicester, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1206 728 178, email:


Dr Mary Dixon-Woods, Senior Lecturer in Social Science and Health, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Leicester, 22-28 Princess Road West
Leicester LE1 6TP. Tel: 0116 252 3204, Fax: 0116 2523272, email: 

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