Screening missed breast cancer

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The Independent Online
Breast cancer screening is to be improved after research has shown that early cancers have been missed, the Department of Health disclosed yesterday, writes Celia Hall.

The department made the announcement before publication of results of a trial involving 100,000 women who have taken part in the national breast cancer screening programme since 1988.

Details of the research have not been made available but concerns were raised when it became clear that several women screened for the second time had signs of cancer which may have been missed at their first screening because only one X-ray view was taken of each breast.

In future, all women in the programme will have two X-rays taken of each breast at their first screening. This will give doctors a view across each breast and a view up and down each breast, enabling them to compare better the X-rays at second and subsequent tests.

Julietta Patnick, national co-ordinator of the NHS Breast Screening Programme, said: "The research has shown that two views significantly increase the cancers detected.

"There are concerns about the number of cancers that have occurred in women between the three-yearly screening interval in the first few years of the programme.

"We are confident that with the move to two-view screening, along with a number of other improvements in technology and in techniques, we will start to see a decrease in the number of these interval cancers. The move to two views ... will help us to be more effective at detecting cancers and at ensuring that women are not recalled for further investigation unnecessarily.''

Baroness Cumberlege, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health, said the department was taking the step "in order to enhance further the sensitivity of breast screening and to ensure that we detect more cancers at an early stage".

Breast cancer affects 1 in 12 women in the UK and kills about 16,000 annually.