A new report shows that over 750,000 women are not attending breast screenings 

Thursday 28 February 2019      Health information Latest research
Nurse looking at breast screening images

The proportion of women aged 50-70 taking up routine breast screening fell to 70.5% in 2017-18, down from 71.1% in 2016-17, according to the Breast Screening Programme England 2017-18 report published today (Thursday 28th February) by NHS Digital. 

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 – significantly lower than the established ‘achievable’ target set for breast screening units (80%). 
  • 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.
  • Uptake of first invitations fell slightly, from 60.3% last year to 60% this year – which is known to be important as women who don’t attend their first appointment are far less likely to attend subsequent appointments.
  • Of the women invited in 2017-18, around 1,790,000 women were screened and therefore more than 750,000 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.

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 minimum attendance target of 70% for the first time, and we must act now at national and regional levels to reverse this trend.

The NHS Breast Screening Programme remains 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. If screening uptake was increased to the established ‘achievable’ target of 80%, we could prevent many more deaths from breast cancer.

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.

With NHS England’s landmark review of screening programmes now underway, it’s essential that this provides clear recommendations to significantly 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.


National uptake by women aged 50-70 of invitations to screen, 2017-18, England:

Year Uptake (%)
2007-08 73.2
2008-09 73.6
2009-10 73.2
2010-11 73.4
2011-12 73.1
2012-13 72.2
2013-14 72.1
2014-15 71.3
2015-16 72.1
2016-17 71.1
2017-18 70.5


Regional uptake by women aged 50-70 of invitations to screen, 2017-18, England:

Region Uptake (%)
North East 74.2
East Midlands 73.6
South West 72.6
East of England 72.0
South East 71.3
Yorkshire and the Humber 70.8
West Midlands 70.5
North West 69.8
London 63.3