Last year 53,454 women attended for breast screening in Northern Ireland, but worryingly over a quarter of all the women invited did not take up the offer, according to a report just published by the Public Health Agency (PHA).
The PHA want to reinforce the message that regular breast screening reduces the risk of death from breast cancer and this is supported by the evidence. For every 400 women screened regularly by the breast cancer screening programme, over a 10 year period, one woman fewer will die from breast cancer than would have died without screening.
Breast screening is a method of detecting breast cancer at an early stage. It involves taking an x-ray of each breast – a mammogram. The mammogram can detect small changes in breast tissue which may indicate cancers which are too small to be felt either by the woman herself, or by a doctor. Small cancers are less likely to require treatment by mastectomy; or to require chemotherapy; 76% of women diagnosed with an invasive cancer in 2009/10 had breast conserving surgery.
“Prevention and early detection are key to saving lives,” said Dr Adrian Mairs, Consultant in Public Health, PHA and Quality Assurance Director for the Northern Ireland Breast Screening Programme.
“I would encourage all women who are invited for breast screening to attend. I would also encourage women over the age of 70 to contact their local breast screening unit to ensure they can continue to attend for breast screening. Many women don’t realize that the risk of breast cancer continues to increase with age. Our recent report on the breast screening service shows it is performing well and meets the national standards. Women should have every confidence using it. Breast screening remains the best way we have of detecting breast cancer at an early stage when treatment can be most effective.”
Regular mammography reduces mortality from breast cancer by 35% in women aged 50 to 69 who attend for screening. Lifestyle changes can also help reduce a woman’s risk of developing the disease, including stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol, eating a low fat diet, being a healthy weight and taking regular exercise.
Most women who attend for breast screening mammography will be identified as having normal mammograms. About 1 in 20 women who attend for screening are referred to an assessment clinic for further investigations and most of these women are given a normal result (4 out of 5 get a normal result). A total of 399 cancers were detected in 2009/10.
Contact the PHA Press Office on 028 9031 1611.
Notes to the editor
The Northern Ireland Breast Screening Programme Annual Report and Statistical Bulletin 2009 – 2010 can now be viewed here.
In Northern Ireland eligible women aged 50 – 70 are invited for breast screening every three years. Women who are older than 70 are encouraged to contact their local breast screening unit to arrange an appointment every three years.