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What if cancer screening can cause harm as well as benefit?

What if cancer screening can cause harm as well as benefit – public lecture next week

August 7, 2014

A leading New Zealand researcher will give a public lecture next week about cancer screening.

University of Canterbury health sciences professor Ann Richardson will offer expert views in a public talk on campus next Wednesday (August 13) on 5the harm that can be caused by cancer screening, such as false-positive and false-negative tests, and over diagnosis of cancer. Details about her lecture are available at: http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/wiw/ .

Professor Richardson says it is important to balance the potential benefits of screening against the potential harms, to ensure that the negative consequences do not outweigh the benefits of cancer screening.

New Zealand has national screening programmes for breast cancer (BreastScreen Aotearoa), cervical cancer (the National Cervical Cancer Screening Programme) and a pilot screening programme for bowel cancer (the Pilot Bowel Screening Programme in Waitemata).

``Each year in New Zealand, over 570,000 people take part in these organised screening programmes to detect cancer. In addition, some people choose to be screened for cancer outside organised screening programmes such as testing for prostate cancer.

``The aim of cancer screening programmes is to improve the outcome for people by detecting cancer early. For some people this could extend their lives,’’ Professor Richardson says.

The most commonly diagnosed cancers in New Zealand are breast cancer, prostate cancer, bowel cancer and melanoma. The most common causes of cancer death in New Zealand are lung cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer.

In addition to screening, some other ways people can reduce their risk of cancer include not smoking, regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding high alcohol consumption.

``Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in women worldwide with over 1.4 million women newly diagnosed with breast cancer and over 450,000 women dying from breast cancer each year.

``New Zealand has among the highest rates of breast cancer in the world. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand women, and the second most common cause of cancer death in women, with over 2700 women diagnosed with breast cancer and over 600 women dying from breast cancer each year.’’

Professor Richardson is an epidemiologist and public health physician. She was a clinical research fellow at the University of Oxford has worked as a public health physician for the Canterbury District Health Board. She served on national working parties and advisory groups, and in 2008 received a Queen’s Service Order (QSO) for services to public health.

Her research, undertaken at the University of Canterbury’s School of Health Sciences, is supported by the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation, the Helen Poole and Ian McDonald Trust, and the Wayne Francis Charitable Trust. The Health Research Council of New Zealand, in partnership with the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation, has provided $333,000 to fund some of her cancer research.

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