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Last Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007, 10:28 GMT
Evidence based medicine
The British Medical Journal is launching a competition to decided the greatest medical breakthrough.

Present-day medical experts are championing discoveries from the last 166 years.

Evidence based medicine is backed by Professor Kay Dickersin, department of epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore

Breast cancer cells
Breast cancer treatment changed because of evidence based medicine

It refers to basing medical practice on the best available research.

Members of the public might assume all medicine should be '"evidence based" - but in fact this is far from the case.

Professor Dickersin says many medics worry that rigidly applying the evidence-based principle might straight jacket medicine, and make it less easy to tailor treatments to the specific circumstances or needs of an individual.

But she says: "Awarding it medical milestone status could help everyone realise it's about making decisions that are based on best available evidence, not dictating what clinicians do."

The term was christened in 1991 by researchers at McMaster University in Ontario.

Among many advances in medicine, it has led to breast cancer being treated through lumpectomy and radiation therapy instead of mastectomies, and premature babies being given treatment which prevents them dying from respiratory diseases.

Professor Dickersin adds: "Evidence based medicine is one of our most important medical milestones because, without it, the other 14 would not have been implemented."

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