LETTER : Side-effects of the breast screening programme

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From Ms Sarah Garland

Sir: I was interested to read Polly Toynbee's article ("When breast screening is best", 6 September) about the controversy over breast screening, which concludes that although "it may turn out that the money is not being spent on saving many lives from breast cancer ... it will be money well spent on making us feel better".

Of course it is impossible to put a price on even one life saved, but I do question Ms Toynbee's assumption that screening always has a reassuring effect.

I was diagnosed in June as having extensive in situ ductal cancer in both breasts on the evidence of a mammogram and was told that the only effective treatment would be to have both breasts removed. I understood that even then some malignancy might remain.

For six weeks, while I underwent tests, I, my family and our friends were in a state of acute anxiety and distress. My husband and I were unable to work as we struggled to come to terms with the situation. Finally, after 18 mammograms and 12 needle tests, I was operated on for several hours to remove breast tissue, and found to be completely clear of any cancer.

I am grateful to the doctors and surgeon who treated me so well, and I assumed that it was unusual for a mammogram to give a false positive reading. But now I read that many other women have gone through the same experience, or the far worse experience of a false negative reading. I am not surprised that Professor Baum is questioning the economics and efficiency of this procedure.

Yours faithfully,

Sarah Garland


7 September