Breast cancer screening saves lives, says report

In collaboration with the Press Association

The NHS Breast Cancer Screening Programme, which provides free check-ups every three years for women over 50, saves 1,400 lives a year a committee of experts has said.

The Advisory Committee on Breast Cancer Screening found that the NHS programme has cut the death rate by more than a third and reduced the need for mastectomies as cancers are often detected earlier.

"We welcome the news that 1,400 lives a year are being saved by the NHS breast screening programme," said Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer information.

"This report has clearly proved its value as a crucial lifeline for women aged 50-70 and will encourage them to attend screening.

"Since breast cancer accounts for one in three cancers of women in the UK, and the risk increases with age, it is important that women over 70 should continue to be regularly screened by asking their GP for an appointment," she added.

The programme screened 1.5 million women through 2003-04, detecting over 11,000 cancers. Since it began in 1988 there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of cancers detected.

While it has been shown to be highly effective, some campaigners have claimed that it is failing to reach women from ethnic minorities, only half of whom regularly attended screening.

Some cancer doctors have also claimed that it can cause unnecessary distress through false alarms.

"The available evidence undoubtedly demonstrates that the benefits of the programme greatly outweigh any risks," said chair of the committee professor Valerie Beral, who is also director of Cancer Research UK's epidemiology unit.

"By detecting breast cancer earlier it also provides many women with improved outcomes, reducing the likelihood that they will need to undergo invasive treatments such as mastectomies."