Breast screening uptake in England remains at a decade low.

Thursday 20 December 2018      Health information
woman and nurse

Provisional data on the Breast Screening Programme England for 2017-18 were published today by NHS Digital. The new figures revealed that breast screening uptake (the number of eligible women invited to screening who attend within six months of invitation) remains at a decade low.

The new figures show that: 

  • The percentage of women taking up their screening invitation within six months fell from 71.1% in 2016-17, to 70.5% in 2017-18.
  • In 2017-18, 2.54 million women aged 50-70 were invited for breast screening in England. This compares to 2.59 million in 2016-17
  • Of the women invited in 2017-18, 1,791,520 women were screened and therefore 750,646 women were not
  • Uptake was above the national minimum standard of 70% in all regions except the North West and London, where it was 69.8% and 63.3% respectively

These provisional statistics precede the Breast Screening Programme 2017-18 National Statistics report, which will be published in February 2019 and will contain more detailed data and analysis of the Breast Screening Programme in 2017-18.

Under the NHS Breast Screening Programme, eligible women will usually receive their first routine invitation for breast cancer screening between the ages of 50 and 53 and will normally be invited every three years until their 71st birthday.

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

It’s extremely worrying that uptake of breast screening continues to fall and has reached another decade low. If this decline continues, next year could see screening in England fall below its attendance target of 70%, and we must act now to reverse this trend.

The NHS Breast Screening Programme remains absolutely critical to early diagnosis in this country, preventing 1,300 deaths from breast cancer each year – and we need to do everything we can to make the most of it, including by improving attendance. 

With breast cancer incidence continuing to rise, it’s really concerning that over 750,000 women are missing out on the benefits of screening in England. Screening is vital in ensuring that breast cancer is detected at earlier, more treatable stages. While screening comes with some risks to be aware of, we’d encourage all women to attend their appointments when invited.

We hope the upcoming review of NHS cancer screening programmes will now provide clear recommendations to improve attendance and address the urgent challenges facing the breast screening workforce. We look to the Government to ensure its recommendations will be put in place, and supported with adequate resource, to enable NHS services to cope with increasing demand over the next decade.