As many as 500,000 women may have not received their final invitations to the Breast Screening Programme.

Friday 25 May 2018      Health information

A new letter by researchers at King’s College London suggests that as many as 500,000 women may have not received their final invitations to the Breast Screening Programme, with the error potentially going as far back as 2005.

On 2nd May 2018, the Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that a serious failure had seen around 450,000 women aged between 68-71 miss their final invitation to routine screening between 2009-2018 – promising that all women affected under the age of 72 would be offered a catch-up screening appointment within six months.

In the letter, published today in The Lancet, authors Professor Peter Sasieni and Shama Sheikh from King’s College London suggest that the failure could date back to 2005, and argue that the error could have been spotted much earlier based on their analysis.

The authors also call for the upcoming independent review into the error to examine the whole system of checks and balances and the role of independent audit of cancer screening programmes.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said:

“It’s concerning to hear the suggestion that even more women may have been affected by missed screening invitations, and we urge Public Health England to make clear the full extent of the error as soon as possible.

“What remains most important is that every single woman affected is identified and given all the information and support they need to make an informed decision about whether to attend catch-up screening where appropriate.

“Major evidence has shown that routine screening prevents deaths from breast cancer, and the earlier the disease is detected, the more likely treatment is to be successful. For those women who will have gone on to develop breast cancers that could have been picked up earlier through screening, this remains a devastating failure – and the independent review must now thoroughly investigate how this was allowed to happen and ensure it can never be repeated.

“Whether to attend a catch-up mammogram is a personal choice that thousands of women now need to be supported to make. While the risk of breast cancer increases with age, and early detection helps offer the best chance of survival, research is ongoing to find out whether the long-term benefits of screening for women over 70 outweigh the risks. We must all do everything we can to help those affected make the choice that’s right for them at this incredibly difficult time.”