Health: Women at risk from screening delays

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The Independent Online
Nearly 40 per cent of Britain's breast screening units are experiencing delays which could be putting women's health at risk. In some areas, women are having to wait up to six months longer than the recommended three year interval for screening, a survey by BBC1's Here and Now programme found.

Professor Ciaran Woodman, director of public health at Christie Hospital, Manchester, says delays in screening increase the chance of a cancerous tumour going undetected until it is in the advanced stages. He is calling for the interval between screenings to be reduced from three to two years.

Professor Woodman said: "The aim of screening is to pick up new cancers. The longer you leave it between tests the greater the chance of not spotting a cancer until it is in its advanced stages. Our studies have shown that the risk of an interval cancer begins to rise dramatically after two years. So if we shorten the interval we reduce the risk of an interval cancer happening. If slippage is beyond three years, it should be a cause for concern for us all."

Under current guidelines, women between the ages of 50 and 64 are routinely invited for free breast screening on the NHS every three years. Women over 64 are also entitled to free screening, but have to ask for a mammogram through their GP. About one million women go for screening every year at 100 units around the UK.