'Troubling' figures reveal thousands of women are missing breast cancer screenings
Tens of thousands of Suffolk and Essex women missed their last screening for breast cancer, according to data branded "troubling" by experts.
Women are invited for a breast screening every three years between the ages of 50 and 70, to try and catch cancer early.
However “concerning” new NHS figures have emerged – revealing a decline in the proportion of women accepting the invitation.
In total, 33,148 women in the Ipswich and east Suffolk, west Suffolk and north east Essex clinical commissioning group (CCG) areas are not up to date with their checks.
“These troubling figures show we’re now only a hair’s breadth above the minimum standard,” said Addie Mitchell, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care.
“While screening is not a one-stop shop, as symptoms can occur at any time, mammograms remain the most effective tool for detecting breast cancer at the earliest possible stage.”
Minimum acceptable levels of coverage in the UK are set at 70%, while the NHS is expected to achieve 80%.
Despite this, just 78.2% of the 55,943 women in the Ipswich and east Suffolk CCG area due a screening in the three years to the end of March 2018 took up the offer.
That means 12,188 women are not up to date.
There is a similar situation in west Suffolk, with only 76.8% of the 35,294 women attending their last check – meaning 8,180 people missed theirs.
And in north east Essex, 12,780 women are not up to date with their checks – with just 72.6% of the 46,637 eligible patients accepting the invitation.
Nationally, only one CCG out of 260 in England achieved the 80% benchmark.
Uptake rates in east Suffolk and north Essex have fallen every year since 2012/13.
In west Suffolk, they have declined since 2013/14.
The breast screening programme uses an X-ray test called a mammogram to detect tumours before they are large enough to feel.
Identifying cancer early on gives a better chance of survival.
Dr Ed Garratt, chief officer at both Suffolk CCGs, said: “I’m concerned that the rate of uptake for breast cancer screenings among 50 to 70-year-old women continues to fall across both our CCGs.
“It’s really important that women in that age range take the opportunity to get screened as the earlier breast cancer is diagnosed the more likely the treatment will be successful and the better their chances of recovery.
“Women are also less likely to need a mastectomy or chemotherapy if breast cancer is detected at an early stage.”
Meanwhile Sam Hepplewhite, chief officer at north east Essex CCG, urged women to attend screenings when invited and added: “We are disappointed to have seen a reduction in the uptake of breast cancer screening in 50 to 70-year-olds in north east Essex.
“The number of women missing screening for breast cancer is concerning and we know the reasons for this are multifaceted, and require ongoing focus across our system from our health and public health colleagues, as well as patient education campaigns which we will continue to actively support and promote.
“We would strongly encourage women to attend their screening when invited.”