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NCSS RESPONSE TO NHS BREAST SCREENING REVIEW

The National Cancer Screening Service (NCSS) has welcomed the review of the NHS breast screening programme in the UK and intends to remain in close contact with its screening colleagues in the UK during the review period. In the meantime, women aged 50-64 who are invited for breast screening are encouraged to attend their appointment.

There has been much international debate in recent years on the benefits and potential harms of breast screening with many contradictory studies published. The NCSS looks forward to the outcome of the comprehensive NHS review. International evidence is important in the shaping and developing of screening programmes.

BreastCheck – The National Breast Screening Programme provides free mammograms to women aged 50-64 on an area-by-area basis every two years. The aim of BreastCheck is to detect breast cancers at the earliest possible stage – often before a woman experiences any symptoms. At this early stage, a woman has greater treatment options available to her and her chosen treatment is likely to be less extensive and more successful.

As with many cancers, early diagnosis and prompt treatment gives the best chance of a good outcome. In Ireland, breast screening is just one element of a quality assured and comprehensive cancer control programme. Breast cancer survival rates are improving as a combined result of screening, early detection and better and more effective treatment options.

A key issue highlighted in the UK is that women are not being adequately informed of the potential harms of breast screening. BreastCheck has a clear commitment to provide easy-to-understand, transparent information about the breast screening process to women who are invited for screening. BreastCheck information materials are regularly reviewed and updated. Every woman invited for screening receives two information leaflets directly by post in advance of their appointment. The leaflets were developed in conjunction with the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA).

In addition to general information about the breast screening process, the leaflets advise that women of any age can get breast cancer – but that the risk increases with age, that not all breast cancers can be found by a mammogram, that some women may find the mammogram painful and that some non-invasive cancers (known as DCIS) will be found by screening. Women who would like more detailed information about DCIS and the benefits and limits of breast screening are directed to the BreastCheck Freephone information line or the website for a detailed factsheet.

Since BreastCheck began screening in February 2000 to end September 2011, the programme has provided 800,452 mammograms to 362,701 women and detected 4,917 breast cancers.

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