Although more than 70 per cent of the women eligible nationally for breast cancer screening last year accepted the invitation, the figures for inner cities were very different.
Dr Nick Perry, a consultant radiologist at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, said that less than 50 per cent of women in south-east London had come forward. 'This compares with 71.3 per cent uptake nationally and 81.5 per cent in rural areas such as East Anglia,' he said.
Dr Alastair Kirkpatrick of the South East Scotland Breast Screening programme, said that this was reflected in cities throughout the UK.
'It is multi-factorial and it is a very complex message that we are trying to get across. Women are frightened of the process, they know that their breasts will be squeezed; they are frightened of what they might find out, and they don't understand what can be done.'
A paper by Dr Kilpatrick and colleagues, in the British Medical Journal tomorrow, on 1.4 million women invited for screening between March 1991 and April 1992, concludes that the results are 'extremely satisfactory' and that most national targets were being met or exceeded.