Breast cancer: More screening urged as uptake rate falls

Radiographer studying a mammogram Image copyright SPL

More than half of invasive breast cancer cases detected in Scotland last year were unlikely to have been found by a physical examination alone, according to new statistics.

The latest figures from the Scottish Breast Screening programme have been published.

They showed a fall in the percentage of women taking up the invitation to a screening appointment.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said early detection could save lives.

Under the Scotland-wide screening programme, women between the ages of 50 and 70 are invited to have a mammogram every three years.

Small tumours

The latest figures show that the percentage of those taking up the appointments across Scotland has fallen from 75.2% in 2005-08 to 72.9% in the period 2011-14, with every health board recording a drop.

In the 2011-14 period, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde was the only health board that failed to meet the minimum standard of seeing 70% of those invited to a screening appointment, with attendance of 67.8%.

Only four health boards met the 80% uptake target - NHS Grampian, NHS Orkney, NHS Shetland and NHS Western Isles.

The detection rate for invasive cancer increased from 5.7 per 1,000 women screened in the period 2005-08 to 6.8 in 2011-14.

Last year, more than 1,450 cases of breast cancer were detected, and most were invasive which means the disease had started to spread.

Of these cases the majority involved very small tumours, unlikely to be detected through a simple physical examination.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "The earlier cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat.

"All the evidence shows that more lives can be saved through early detection and breast screening can pick up cancers that women would be unlikely to find themselves.

"The figures published today show that the overall uptake of breast screening remains high, with nearly three-quarters of Scottish women participating in the programme.

"However, I would like to see even more eligible women take up their invitation to screening, and so I'd encourage every woman aged 50 to 70 to find out more about the Scottish Breast Screening Programme."

'Risks and benefits'

James Jopling from Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer said: "The decline in the number of women attending breast screening over the past few years is a concern to us, but the reasons for it remain unclear.

"There has been more vocal criticism of the Screening Programme in recent years which may have had an impact on how women feel about screening.

"However, the choice to attend breast screening is an individual one and every woman needs to be aware of the risks and benefits that apply to them so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not to attend."

He added: "We encourage the Scottish Government to continue working to ensure the Breast Screening Programme is available and accessible to all those who want to use it."

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