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Documentary Screening - On Behalf of our Breasts: The Dark Side of Screening

On Behalf of our Breasts: The Dark Side of Screening was scheduled to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It was screened on October 31 of 2020, at 5 PM.

Blanket screening programmes for cancer screen most women. But is it true that they are causing more harm than good? Do all women need breast cancer screening, or would it be more effective to screen only those with symptoms or have genetic disposal towards developing breast cancer?

Amy Robach, a correspondent on Good Morning America, underwent a breast cancer screening on live TV in the presence of an X-ray technician. Robach subsequently underwent a double mastectomy after a breast cancer diagnosis. She said, “If I got the mammogram on-air, and if it saved one life, then it’s all worth it, she had said. It never occurred to me that life would be mine”. Although the screening helped Amy Robach, the show itself was a sales pitch for increasing cancer screenings (Zeeberg, 2013).

H. Gilbert Welch, a long-time expert on Breast Cancer Screening, said, “Some of the original trials back in the ’80s suggested that mammography reduced breast cancer mortality by as much as 25 percent. This figure became the conventional wisdom.” The fall in breast cancer mortality started around 1990 in all countries when effective treatments were introduced. The rate of decline was about the same in all countries. Even in the United States, where screening started as early as the mid-1980s, there was a similar decline rate.

The benefits and harm of mammography are constantly under debate. While the benefit of screening remains a possible reduction in mortality from breast cancer, the major harm is overdiagnosis and the subsequent consequences (Marmot G., Altman D.G., et al., 2013). Observational studies have shown that cancer screening does not reduce the incidence in advanced cancers and up to no effect on reducing mortality in breast cancer (Gotzsche, 2015).

Breast cancer kills. But are blanket screening programmes that screen all women, rather than those with symptoms, doing more harm than good? Controversially, studies into the effects of these programmes show they do not reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer. Healthy women are receiving an unnecessary diagnosis of precancerous conditions that are unlikely to develop, and many are harmed by unnecessary treatment. The documentary follows four women around the world facing the fear of cancer.


Java Films, (producer.) & Kanopy (Firm), (distributor.) (2016). On Behalf of our Breasts - The Dark Side of Screening. Java Films

Zeeberg, A (2013, November 12). An Inspiring, Misleading Tale about Breast Cancer Screening. Nautilus. https://nautil.us/blog/an-inspiring-misleading-tale-about-breast_cancer-screening

Marmot, M. G., Altman, D. G., Cameron, D. A., Dewar, J. A., Thompson, S. G., Wilcox, M. (2013). The benefits and harms of breast cancer screening: an independent review. British Journal of Cancer, 108(11), 2205–2240. https://doi.org/10.1038/bjc.2013.177

Gøtzsche, P. C. (2015). Mammography screening is harmful and should be abandoned. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 108(9), 341–345. https://doi.org/10.1177/0141076815602452

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