LETTER : Side-effects of the breast screening programme

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The Independent Online
From Ms Sally Greengross

Sir: The debate around breast screening omits one important issue: that the current policy is age discriminatory. The national breast screening programme, by only inviting women between the ages of 50 and 64, excludes those who are most at risk, as more than 63 per cent of deaths from breast cancer occur in women over 65. The programme would be even more effective if it were extended to older women and an estimated 2,000 extra lives per annum could be saved.

Research from Sweden, the largest controlled trial into the disease, shows that screening is more effective with women aged 65-74 than with the group currently invited for screening. The Canadian review to which you refer ("Cancer specialists question value of breast screening", 6 September) showed only a 5 per cent reduction in deaths. This review is highly selective, as it included women as young as 40 who are less at risk from breast cancer and who therefore may not benefit from regular screening.

Unless the upper age limit is reviewed, those most at risk will continue to lose out. The Government's sop that women over the age of 65 can request a screening does not stand up, as less than 0.4 per cent do so. Some are even turned away by practice staff who are unaware of this right.

Yours sincerely,

Sally Greengross

Director-General

Age Concern

London, SW16

5 September

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