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Overdiagnosis risk not commonly understood

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Practice nurses can provide vital information

Practice nurses should inform women of the risks of overdiagnosis from breast cancer screening, according to Cancer Research UK.

Jessica Kirby, senior health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: 'Practice and primary care nurses have an important role in helping women understand the benefits and risks of breast screening, and supporting them to make an informed decision about whether or not to be screened.

'A good place [for practice nurses] to start is the NHS breast screening leaflet, Helping you decide, which includes an explanation of what overdiagnosis is and information about how often it happens. Although women will already have received the leaflet with their screening invitation, talking it through with them can be helpful.'

Research published in the British Journal of Cancer stated a third of women don't understand that regular breast cancer screening can lead to a level of overdiagnosis.

In a survey of 2,200 women, Cancer Research scientists at University College London found that 64 per cent of women felt that they fully understood the information that there was a chance that screening could pick up cancers that would not have caused any harm. Latest estimates suggest that each year in the UK around 1300 women's lives are saved through screening, while 4000 women are overdiagnosed.

Information about overdiagnosis was included in the NHS breast screening invitation leaflets in late 2013, so some women may not have seen them.

Ms Kirby added: 'The words 'overdiagnosis' and 'overtreatment' aren't familiar to many women so it's also important to give a clear, understandable and jargon-free explanation of what this means. You could try saying: "Some women will be diagnosed and treated for a cancer that would never have become life-threatening", or a similar explanation. You can mention that doctors can't tell which women are overdiagnosed, even after treatment, and acknowledge that overdiagnosis is a difficult concept, so women don't feel uncomfortable about not knowing or understanding. Try to help them feel safe and able to ask questions or share concerns they may have in a supportive environment.'

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