Some disturbing news from the NHS last month: according to the latest findings of their Breast Screening Programme, the proportion of women between the ages of 50 and70 taking up routine breast screening invitations in England fell to 70.5% in 2017-18 – down from 71.1% in 2016-17 and from 73.2% in 2007-08.
According to the findings, 2.54 million women in that age group were invited for breast screening in England during 2017-18 – and 1.79 million women took up the invitation. The highest uptake percentage was in the East Midlands at 73.6%, while the lowest was in London (63.3%) and the North West (69.8%).
Under the NHS Breast Screening Programme, women will usually receive their first routine invitation for breast cancer screening between the ages of 50 and 53 and will normally be invited every three years until they are 70. And during the period which fell under the report, 18,000 women were detected with some form of breast cancer – and 40.1 per cent of those (approximately 7,200 women) were invasive but small cancers which were less than 15mm in diameter and usually too small to detect by hand.
So, this reduced proportion – the lowest level of take-up in a decade – is an alarming development, particularly when combined with international research that was published in the Lancet recently which shows UK survival rates for cancer continue to lag behind the rest of the world, falling in the bottom half of the league tables for seven cancers and only coming in the top ten for two. Furthermore, another recent study claims that if the UK’s screening percentage matched the average in the rest of Europe, up to 10,000 deaths could be prevented each year if the UK matched the European average.
Why are the breast screening rates dropping?
It’s worth going over this again, because it could be a life-saver: around one in eight women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. Screening is designed to pinpoint these cancers when they are in their formative stage, because – as we all know – the earlier a cancer is detected, the higher the survival rate. Simply put, screenings remain the medical community’s best shot at detecting breast cancer in 2019.
However, screenings can only tell us so much. Sure, it can detect a cancer, but it can’t tell us whether it’s benign or dangerous. The current policy in the medical community remains ‘if in doubt, cut it out’, which means – according to a national review earlier this decade – for every life saved by screening, there are three instances of unnecessary surgery. Fear of discovering the worst is an obvious factor, too.
It’s better to know as early as possible
“In light of today’s troubling news that breast cancer survival in the UK is not keeping up with the rest of Europe, it’s worrying to see screening uptake in England at its lowest level in ten years,” said Samia al Qadhi, the chief executive of Breast Cancer Care – a UK-based charity which supports people with breast cancer. “Our concern is women may not be empowered to get the support and information they need to make a decision that’s right for them.
“Mammograms remain the most effective tool at our disposal for detecting breast cancer at the earliest possible stage. However, it’s crucial to be aware of what’s normal for you and get anything unusual checked out – remember it’s not just a lump to look out for.”
Our advice – as always – is to take that important first step and book an appointment. If there’s something there, it’s better to know as early as possible. Call 0800 612 9490 to arrange your breast screening appointment.