A recent study from researchers at University College London (London, UK) consisting of a survey of around 2200 women suggests that up to a third of women given information about the chance of overdiagnosis upon breast screening do not fully understand the risks involved.
The researchers reported that only 64% of those questioned felt they fully understood the information they were given on overdiagnosis. Despite uncertainty over the information, intentions to attend breast screening remained high, with only 7% saying they would be less likely to attend screening after having received the overdiagnosis information. A total of 4% stated that they would be more likely to attend screening after receiving the information.
One of the study’s authors Jo Waller (University College London) commented: “While there is clearly room for improvement, the information leaflet does appear to help some women make a decision about whether or not to have breast screening. But the study found that many women still struggle to understand the balance of benefits and harms linked to breast screening, so we need to find better ways to communicate the risks as well as the benefits.”
Some slow growing breast cancers that would take more than a lifetime to threaten a woman’s health are the main reason for overdiagnoses. Researchers estimate that for every life that is saved through screening, approximately three women will be overdiagnosed with breast cancer; however there is presently no way of telling the difference between life-threatening cancers and cancers that are overdiagnosed.
Cancer Research UK’s (London, UK) director of early diagnosis, Sara Hiom, commented: “We think it’s vitally important for women to have clear information about breast screening, the balance of benefits and harms and the fact that they could be diagnosed with and treated for a cancer that might not have caused them harm. We are committed to providing quality information that can help women understand the harms and benefits of breast screening, and research like this can help us refine the information we offer to be sure that it is as helpful and understandable as possible. The concept of overdiagnosis is still very new for a lot of women because it has only been included in the NHS leaflets for a year. We hope that over time, people’s understanding of this concept will increase as more and more women receive information explaining this risk of screening.”