Behind the Headlines of the Breast Screening Review | Breast Cancer Campaign

Behind the Headlines of the Breast Screening Review

Women will have woken up to headlines this morning on the NHS breast screening programme that they may be surprised, worried, confused or reassured about- depending on what they already knew or thought about screening and which papers they were reading. Headlines don’t always allow for the easiest explanation of what is a complicated issue.

With different views on screening having been displayed across the papers for a number of years, Breast Cancer Campaign supported the establishment of the Independent Breast Screening Review, which was given the task of assessing breast screening based on the best available evidence.

The results of the review, which have been published in the Lancet today, found that the NHS Breast Screening programmes can save lives, preventing 1300 deaths from breast cancer in the UK every year. For every 180 women who attend screening in the UK it is estimated that one life is saved. However, screening also identifies breast cancers that are genuine cancers but, if left untreated, would have grown so slowly that they would not have caused harm to people in their lifetime.

The review estimates that this over-diagnosis could be in the region of 4,000 cancers- this is out of the almost 16,000 cancers detected by the UK screening programmes every year. As it’s not possible to know which cancers are life-threatening and which aren’t, almost all women diagnosed through screening are treated.  

The overall conclusion of the review was that the NHS Breast Screening Programmes offer significant benefits and should continue, which means that women between 50-70 will continue to be invited for breast screening every three years in the UK. Some women are invited from 47 and up to 73 too as part of a pilot extension of this programme.

Breast Cancer Campaign along with Breast Cancer Care and Breakthrough Breast Cancer have produced a joint comment on the outcome of the review and continue to encourage women to attend their screening appointments. The information that will be provided for women when they attend screening is going to be reviewed and we support this process.

We believe it is important that when women are invited for their screening appointments they have access to clear and balanced information on the pros and cons of screening. Breast Cancer Campaign is part of the group looking at the review of the screening literature and will input into the group with that aim in mind.

In preparation for the outcome of the review and to ensure that we know what women think about screening, in the past couple of months we have consulted with women diagnosed with breast cancer and surveyed women across England on their views of screening. We found considerable support at that point for the screening programme and overwhelmingly that women would want to know if they have any form of breast cancer. Whether the information from today has an impact on this will be something that we will continue to monitor to ensure that we are able to put forward the views and experiences of women with breast cancer and women across the country.

At Breast Cancer Campaign we are also committed to funding research that would increase our knowledge and understanding of breast cancer, so that we know more about how and why cancers will spread and therefore which cancers need treatment.

Research we have funded in this area includes Professor Louise Jones who looked at which patients with Ductal Carcinoma In-Situ (a non-invasive form of breast cancer) are likely to develop breast cancer and which patients would benefit from close monitoring to catch DCIS as soon as it starts to progress.

The outcome of the review today is a reminder of how important it is that we continue to fund breast cancer research and how much more we still need to know about the disease.