Women's health * 50+ health

1 in 3 women fail to attend breast screening

a third of women failing to take up breast screening invites Up to 600 lives could be lost every year as a result

Thousands of women are putting their lives at risk by failing to attend breast screening clinics, claims charity Cancer Research UK.

In 2008, out of 2.2 million women who were sent an invitation for screening, 1.7 million attended - around 73%, meaning that nearly 1 in 3 were failing to respond to the invite.

But experts are predicting that if all women attended screening when invited, then around 600 extra lives could be saved each year.

Alarmingly, in January the number of women in England newly invited for screening fell below 70% for the first time - despite the fact that breast cancer is now the most common cancer in the UK with more than 45,500 women diagnosed in 2006.

In England the NHS breast screening programme diagnoses around 10,000 cases of breast cancer annually and saves around 1,400 lives every year. This could be increased by nearly a third if all women were to take up their invitations to attend a screening.

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer information, said: "Screening saves lives, so it's extremely worrying to see that the percentage of women going for screening is dropping. Mammograms pick up the very early signs of breast cancer when it's much easier to treat. Even though the screening programme saves around 1,400 lives each year we predict that if there was 100% attendance, hundreds more lives could be saved."

Professor Stephen Duffy, Cancer Research UK's professor of cancer screening at Queen Mary, University of London, said: "Most women who go for screening are reassured to be told that they don't have breast cancer. But, it's still important for all women who are invited to attend. For the minority who do get breast cancer, catching it early through screening means women are more likely to be successfully treated and less likely to need a mastectomy."

This article was published on Wed 30 September 2009

Image © Monkey Business - Fotolia.com

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