Share The Wealth by Chris Gupta
July 12, 2003

Health warning: screening can seriously damage patients

See my earlier article The Depths of Deceit Mammography for some salient background. Particularly the effects of X-Rays

Chris Gupta

A story about cancer screening - they seem to finally recognize
that something's not right about their approach. The numbers tell.


Health warning: screening can seriously damage patients Breast cancer checks at centre of fresh controversy as concerns grow that hi-tech clinics may harm those seeking to pre-empt illness By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor 11 July 2003

Hi-tech screening services, which promise to detect early signs of heart disease, cancer and other conditions while they can still be cured, are being introduced in Britain despite warnings from doctors that they may do more harm than good.

A new allegation that breast screening, one of the longest established procedures, is being over-promoted to women who are not being alerted to the harm that can result is published today in the British Medical Journal.

Regular mammography to check for breast cancer is an established technology, backed by scientific expertise, which is popular with patients. But debate continues to rage over whether it saves lives or prompts unnecessary treatment. Hazel Thornton, a former breast cancer patient and visiting fellow at the University of Leicester, and Michael Baum, emeritus professor of surgery at University College, London, and a long-time critic of screening, have teamed up with a colleague to demand information for women that sets out the risks and benefits.

They cite evidence showing 1,200 women would have to be screened for 14 years to save one life from breast cancer while during that time scores would suffer anxiety, surgery and mastectomies for suspicious lumps that turned out to be benign.

The war over the risks and benefits of screening is likely to grow. Clinics offering whole body scans, diagnostic tests and checks for specific conditions such as skin cancer are springing up in London and in other cities promising to provide clients with the "ultimate health check".

At least four clinics have opened in the capital in the past three months offering tests lasting from 15 minutes to two hours and costing up to £1,000. Companies say the tests can reveal small tumours, aortic aneurysms (defects in the wall of the main blood vessel), bone erosion, artery deposits and osteoporosis (bone thinning).

Whole body screening is big business in America. Smart walk-in facilities such as the Ameriscan Body Imaging Centre are based in shopping malls and on high streets and are heavily advertised. They promise an ultra-fast image of vital internal organs for a price of about £650.

The selling point of the scans is summarised in one company's slogan: "You don't know what's inside until you look." Traditionally, doctors have performed health checks using the thermometer, the stethoscope and their skill as diagnosticians. Now the promise is that new technology will replace the application of a sensitive touch and a listening ear.

But British experts are sceptical. Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal, said a whole body scan had become a fashionable gift in the US for people reaching milestone birthdays of 50, 60 or even 40. "You might be giving your loved one the supreme gift of extra years of life. Unfortunately, you may be more likely to give him or her a lorry load of anxiety and a series of invasive, painful and unnecessary investigations," he wrote.

The problem is that most scans throw up "abnormalities" but to distinguish those that are benign from those that indicate serious disease is often difficult. Dr Harvey Eisenberg, who runs a scanning service in Newport, California, said he referred 80 per cent of the clients he screened for further hospital checks.

"Emerging pathologies are almost always present. In 25,000 patients I have seen maybe 10 that were completely normal," he said.

Screening may wrongly indicate the presence of disease in some patients - the "false positive" findings - causing them to have painful and unnecessary investigations. An American patient who had a nodule detected on his lung in screening described how he had a lung biopsy to check for cancer, which revealed that the nodule was a healed scar that was non-threatening. The investigation led to him spending four days in hospital, enduring a painful procedure followed by several weeks' recuperation and left him with a bill of $47,000 (£30,000).

Stephen Swenson, professor of radiology at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, said in the BMJ that screening for lung cancer at his clinic as part of a study had detected 56 cases of the disease over four years. "One could ask why screening should not be advocated. Several uncertainties, however, make it premature to advocate screening on a large scale," he said.

Although they found more early-stage lung cancers, what was unclear was whether this would delay progression of the disease, even with treatment, or whether the mortality associated with treating lesions which might turn out to be benign outweighed the gain from screening. Professor Swenson writes:
"Some of the best doctors in the world have sincere differences of opinion about such screening .... If patients simply want to get scanned ... doctors should tell patients in explicit terms that such screening has no proved benefit and that serious risks could outweigh benefits (if there are any). Patients should understand that the stakes are high."

In their paper on breast screening in today's BMJ, Ms Thornton and Professor Baum say misconceptions on screening abound. Many people wrongly believe screening reduces the incidence of breast cancer, that all types of breast cancer progress and that early detection is always a benefit.

In fact, they say, screening contributes to a rise in the incidence of breast cancer and one in five cancers detected is ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a type of breast cancer that may not progress. In 40 per cent of cases, DCIS results in a mastectomy, which may be unnecessary for the woman and expensive for the NHS.

They claim there has been "negligible improvement" in NHS screening leaflets because of the tension that exists with the screening service's need to boost uptake.

They conclude: "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."

A spokeswoman for the NHS Breast Screening Service said leaflets given to women were revised in 2001 to provide balanced information on benefits and limitations. "All women receive a copy of the leaflet with their invitation to screening which sets out what screening can and cannot do," she said.

Even the longest established form of screening in the UK - for cervical cancer - is not immune to criticism. In a separate survey in the BMJ, Angela Raffle, consultant in public health medicine in Avon, and colleagues, calculated that 1,000 women would have to be screened for 35 years to prevent one death. They point out that more than 80 per cent of abnormal findings at cervical screening do not progress to invasive cancer. "The same may well apply in other organs and the prophylactic [preventive] removal of colons, ovaries, breasts and gullets may be killing people without benefit," they say.

The rationale for screening - that we can nip diseases in the bud - is now being adopted by companies to make fat profits. But abnormalities are more common and difficult to interpret than people think. Early detection can improve survival - but it may also mean merely that patients spend more of their life with the knowledge that they have a fatal disease. Sometimes it is better not to know.

Screening tests


Examining a scraping of cells from the cervix under a microscope can reveal early changes, which may progress to cancer.


Mammography (an X-ray of the breast) can detect lumps in the breast that may be cancerous while they are too small to be felt.


Blood tests measure cholesterol levels and ECG can measure the heart rhythm. The ultimate test is angiography, in which X-rays of the coronary arteries are taken after being injected with a radio-opaque dye.


Testing faeces for the presence of occult (hidden) blood can detect signs of cancer. An internal examination using a flexible telescope can check for polyps, small growths from the intestinal wall, which may develop into cancer.


An ultrasound probe inserted in the vagina or pressed over the abdomen, combined with blood tests, may provide early warning of cancer. Trials are being run to establish its reliability.


Blood tests, with rectal examination, may indicate cancer.


A scan can detect nodules that may be early tumours.


A bone density scan can provide early warning of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis, caused by loss of calcium.

The Independent
11 July 2003 09:36


posted by Chris Gupta on Saturday July 12 2003
updated on Saturday September 24 2005

URL of this article:



Related Articles

Drinking Water Fluoridation is Genotoxic & Teratogenic
This paper by Prof. Joe Cummins is a very important 5 minute delegation made to London Ontario Canada "Civic Works Committee" public participation meeting on January 25, 2012 on fluoride*. While a bit technical it is short and easy to grasp. A must read as it goes to the heart of the matter regarding the well established toxicity of fluoride which is well in all scientific circles even before water... [read more]
February 06, 2012 - Chris Gupta

Democracy At Work? - PPM On Fluoride
Here is a commentary on the recent (Jan, 25th, 2011) Public Participation Meeting (PPM) on Fluoride in the City of London, Ontario. The meeting started with a strong pro fluoride stance form the City engineer. His lack of knowledge on chemistry of the toxic wastes used to fluoridate water could embarrass even a high school student never mind his own profession. He blatantly violated his "duty to public welfare" as... [read more]
January 29, 2012 - Chris Gupta

"Evidence Be Damned...Patient Outcome Is Irrelevant" - From Helke
Further to The Future of Complementary/Integrative Medicine & Patient Choice, here is an important must read and act note from Helke Ferrie, a superb Medical Science Writer and Publisher. Now that the true colours of the well known shortcomings of allopathic medicine are being discovered en mass, the screws are being tightened by the pharmaceutical masters on their medical puppets. It seems that they are prepared to stop at nothing.... [read more]
September 16, 2011 - Chris Gupta



Readers' Comments

I am exceedingly grateful for your comments on the perils of screening.
I had no idea that so many in the medical profession agreed with my amateur decision.
I was found in routine bloodtest, to have an elevated red cell count. My GP told me this can lead to leukaemia.
The screenings they would have subjected me to by now would most certainly have triggered leukaemia , I am sure.
I found out years ago when given iron in pregnancy that if I take iron suplements my red count would escalate.
I refused all further tests (bone marrow extraction, full body scan with radio active isotope,plus further liver and kidney scans later on)
It took courage to say thanks, but no thanks, (which I did in a four poage letter to the consultant haemotologist)
Thank you so much for making me see perhaps I am not so much of an idiot after all.
By the way, I later found that the zestoretic prescribed for HBP contained both red and yellow iron oxide.

Posted by: Rosemary Rhodes on July 31, 2003 09:21 AM


I posted this, and a reply came thanking me for unsubscribing.
I DO NOT WANT to unsubscribe.
Please reinstate me

Posted by: Rosemary Rhodes on July 31, 2003 09:26 AM


Rosemary, thanks for your comments. Regarding your subscription can you please send me your email address, the link in your notes above do not work, so I can ensure that you are subscribed.

Posted by: Chris Gupta on July 31, 2003 05:57 PM


Rosemary, thanks for your comments. Regarding your subscription can you please send me your email address, the link in your notes above do not work, so I can ensure that you are subscribed.

Posted by: Chris Gupta on July 31, 2003 05:58 PM


E mail ad as requested

Posted by: Rosemary Rhodes on August 1, 2003 10:23 PM


i want you to know that diabete can be cured using our herbal medicine, i am an african native doctor that have cure lots of cases of hypathension and diabete, i have a special drugs for this and i will like to assure you that if any one can try it,i will be very glad.

Posted by: dr madaku on September 6, 2003 06:42 AM



Posted by: julie lorraine jackson on May 20, 2006 08:13 AM


I questioned the need for routine Tests and exams 30 years ago - I did the unthinkable - did my own research, spoke to scientists and declined cancer screening. Needless to say, over the years, I've been challenged and bullied many times - GP's receive a financial incentive to get women into these problems, they're not concerned with issues of consent or informed consent - do as you're told and scare tactics prevail... I've seen many women live in fear and harmed by this Testing. No Doctor has the right to accept risk on your behalf or should perform unnecessary exams/Tests on healthy patients - IMO, it's unethical and improper... Cancer screening has risks as well as benefits - a small number of women will benefit, while the rest will suffer the unpleasantness of the exam/Test and possible harm from false positives and unnecessary, painful and distressing follow-up... Being informed is the only way to safely negotiate the medical world... This disgraceful treatment has been reserved for women so far - beware...they're now starting on men - I didn't think that would happen - beware of the PSA blood test - do your reading and ask questions before you agree to this "simple" blood test - it might lead you down a very worrying path.

Posted by: Juliet on February 12, 2009 05:59 PM


Security code:

Please enter the security code displayed on the above grid

Due to our anti-spamming policy the comments you are posting will show up online within few hours from the posting time.




A Person Is Only As Valuable As She Can Be Of Help To Others


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

These articles are brought to you strictly for educational and informational purposes.
Be sure to consult your health practitioner of choice prior to any specific use of any of the non drug device or food based medicinal products referenced herein.



Enter your Email

Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz



Most Popular Articles

Bad News About Statin Drugs

Cod Liver Oil - Number One Superfood

Statin Drugs & Memory Loss

Cold remedies that really work.- update




Recent articles
Drinking Water Fluoridation is Genotoxic & Teratogenic

Democracy At Work? - PPM On Fluoride

"Evidence Be Damned...Patient Outcome Is Irrelevant" - From Helke

Why Remove Fluoride From Phosphate Rock To Make Fertilizer

FOFI Codex Meeting Report On Labelling May 9 - 13, 2011

Misconduct Of Health Canada Bureaucrats

Archive of all articles on this site



Most recent comments

Cold remedies that really work.- update

Why Doctors Don't Recommend More The Use Of Coq10?

Re: Dispelling the Night-Time Frequent Urination

Health via Meditation/Stress Reduction

Build a Low cost & simple Magnetic Pulser



Candida International

What Does MHRA Stand For??

Bono and Bush Party without Koch: AIDS Industry Makes a Mockery of Medical Science

Profit as Usual and to Hell with the Risks: Media Urge that Young Girls Receive Mandatory Cervical Cancer Vaccine


Health Supreme

Multiple sclerosis is Lyme disease: Anatomy of a cover-up

Chromotherapy in Cancer

Inclined Bed Therapy: Tilt your bed for healthful sleep


Evolving Collective Intelligence

Let Us Please Frame Collective Intelligence As Big As It Is

Reflections on the evolution of choice and collective intelligence

Whole System Learning and Evolution -- and the New Journalism

Gathering storms of unwanted change

Protect Sources or Not? - More Complex than It Seems



Islanda, quando il popolo sconfigge l'economia globale.

Il Giorno Fuori dal Tempo, Il significato energetico del 25 luglio

Rinaldo Lampis: L'uso Cosciente delle Energie

Attivazione nei Colli Euganei (PD) della Piramide di Luce

Contatti con gli Abitanti Invisibili della Natura


Diary of a Knowledge Broker

Giving It Away, Making Money

Greenhouses That Change the World

Cycles of Communication and Collaboration

What Is an "Integrated Solution"?

Thoughts about Value-Add


Best sellers from