The update of routine breast cancer screening by women in England has reached its lowest level in 10 years, reveal latest figures.
The proportion of women aged 50-70 taking up routine breast screening invitations fell to 71.1% in 2016-17, down from 72.1% in 2015-16 and 73.6% in 2006-07 – the lowest rate over the period. The trend was described as “worrying” by cancer charities.
“Our concern is women may not be empowered to get the support and information they need”
Samia al Qadhi
While the numbers having screening have fallen, the numbers being invited to attend have risen, noted a report published this week by NHS Digital.
The report – titled Breast Screening Programme England, 2016-17 – said 2.59 million women were invited during 2016-17, compared with 2.48 million in 2015-16 and 2.07 million in 2006-07.
Of these, 1.84 million women were screened by the programme in 2016-17. This compares with 1.79 million in 2015-16 and 1.52 million in 2006-07.
According to the report, uptake by women aged 50-70 fell in all seven reporting regions in 2016-17 when compared with the previous year.
Uptake was highest in the East Midlands at 75.2%. It was above the national minimum standard of 70% in all regions except the North West and London, where it was 68.8% and 64%, respectively.
Coverage – the percentage of women aged 53-70in the population who are eligible for screening at a particular point in time – remained “relatively static for the third year in a row”, stated NHS Digital.
According to the report, it was at 75.4% (4.48 million of 5.95 million) in 2016-17 and, therefore, remains above the NHS Cancer Screening Programme’s minimum standard of 70%.
This compares with 75.5% (4.40 million of 5.83 million) in 2015-16 and 73.8% (3.74 million of 5.07 million) in 2006-07, noted the report.
It noted that, under the NHS Breast Screening Programme, eligible women usually received their first routine invitation between the ages of 50 and 53 and would normally be invited every three years until they were 70.
Of all women with cancers detected through screening in 2016-17, 41.5% (7,600 women) had invasive but small cancers which are less than 15mm in diameter and are usually too small to detect by hand. This compares with 41.2% (7,500 women) in 2015-16.
Samia al Qadhi, chief executive of the charity Breast Cancer Care, said: “It’s worrying to see screening uptake in England at its lowest level in 10 years. 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,” she said. ”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.”