Evidence shows breast screening is the most reliable way of detecting early breast cancer at a stage when treatment is usually simpler and more successful, therefore reducing deaths. Breast cancer treatment is most effective when the cancer is detected at an early stage – 97% of women diagnosed through screening survive at least five years compared to 84% for all breast cancer patients.
The 2009/10 Northern Ireland Breast Screening Programme Annual Report and Statistical Bulletin showed that around 1 in 23 women screened are called back for further assessment and 1 in 7 of those women will have cancer. The five year survival rates for breast cancer are higher in Northern Ireland (84%) than in other parts of the UK (81%). This shows that the Northern Ireland Breast Screening Programme and local treatment services are performing well.
Dr Carolyn Harper, Director of Public Health for Northern Ireland, said, “Breast screening reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer. As the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, I would encourage all women aged 50 and over to attend for breast screening every three years.
“Although women aged 50 to 70 are automatically sent invitation letters, around a quarter of them do not attend. Women aged over 70 can arrange an appointment by contacting their local breast screening unit. Most of these women will have already attended for routine breast screening in the unit in the past.
“It is important that women realise the risk of breast cancer continues to increase after the age of 70. Action Cancer offer screening to women aged under 50 and over 70 and are a valuable additional local resource.”
The Public Health Agency (PHA) advises women of all ages to be breast aware and check their breasts regularly for lumps and anything else that might seem unusual, like discharge from the nipple and puckering of the skin.
Further information on breast screening in Northern Ireland can be found at www.cancerscreening.n-i.nhs.uk
The PHA leaflet, Breast awareness: looking out for changes, is available at www.publichealth.hscni.net
Contact PHA press office on 028 9031 1611.
Notes to the editor
- The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) estimates there is a 35% reduction in mortality from breast cancer among screened women aged 50–69 years.
- In March 2009, the Northern Ireland Breast Screening Programme was extended to automatically invite women aged 50–70 years for screening every three years. Prior to this, women aged 50–64 years were invited.