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Public ‘doesn’t understand overdiagnosis’, warn cancer experts

Most people have no idea what the term ‘overdiagnosis’ means, raising concerns that the public needs better education to understand the potential harms of screening for diseases such as cancer, a survey by experts from the charity Cancer Research UK has found.

The survey of almost 400 people aged 50 to 70 years, published in the journal BMJ Open, found that more than two-thirds had never heard of overdiagnosis – and less than 3% could correctly explain what it is.

Lead author Dr Alex Ghanouni, research associate at Cancer Research UK’s Health Behaviour Research Centre, at University College London, said: ‘It’s crucial that we start talking about overdiagnosis more to help the public make more informed decisions about their health.’

An independent review in 2012 concluded that the NHS needed to better inform women about the potential harms of undergoing regular mammograms under the national breast screening programme, following concerns blanket screening was leading to a significant number of women being over-investigated and undergoing unnecessary treatment.

The publication of Prostate Cancer UK’s consensus statements on PSA testing, which called for wider access to the test than is currently recommended in official Public Health England guidance, have again raised the issue of potential overinvestigations from screening and the need to inform people about the pros and cons.

BMJ Open 2016; available online 7 April


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