High breast screening uptake rate for area

by Gillian McDade

THE rate of uptake for breast screening among women in the area which includes Cookstown and Magherafelt is 80 per cent - above average for Northern Ireland.

This figure, which was issued by the Public Health Agency, is for the Northern Local Commissioning Group area and is for the three-year screening cycle 2008/09-2010/11.

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, the Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging all women in Mid-Ulster to be breast aware and to attend screening when invited.

Prevention and early detection are key to saving lives, according to Dr Adrian Mairs, Consultant in Public Health, PHA and Quality Assurance Director for the Northern Ireland Breast Screening Programme.

Across Northern Ireland in 2010/11 a total of 58,419 women aged 50-70 were invited for screening and 44,323 attended. This means that just under a quarter of women who were invited did not take up the offer of screening mammography.

Dr Mairs said the PHA wants to reinforce the message that regular screening reduces the risk of death from breast cancer. And he pointed out that for every 400 women screened regularly by the programme, over a 10 year period, one woman fewer will die from breast cancer than would have died without screening.

Most women who attend will be identified as having normal mammograms. About one in 20 who attend for screening are referred to an assessment clinic for further investigations and most of these women are given a normal result (four out of five get a normal result).

In 2010/11, a total of 358 breast cancers were detected – that’s one woman per day who did not know they had cancer, but who are now getting treatment.

He said he wanted to encourage all women who are invited for breast screening to attend, and said that those over the age of 70 should contact their local breast screening unit to ensure they can continue to attend for screening.

Lifestyle changes can also help reduce a woman’s risk of developing the disease, including stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol, eating a low fat diet, being a healthy weight and taking regular exercise.

Dr Mairs highlighted how important it was for women to look out for changes in appearance including size, puckering, dimpling or veins that stand out more than usual.

He also said women should be aware of any feelings of pain or discomfort in either the breast or armpit, particularly if it is new and persistent, any lumps or thickening that feels different, as well as any swelling or lumps under the armpit or around the collarbone; and any changes to the nipple including shape, discharge, bleeding or a rash.

“Many changes are harmless but all should be checked by a GP. If the change is due to cancer, earlier detection may mean simpler and more successful treatment,” he said.