TENS of thousands more women in England may have missed out of breast screening invitations as errors date back further than previously thought, a leading cancer expert has warned.
Some 150,000 more women could have been affected by the scandal, which came to light earlier this month.
Getty – Contributor Tens of thousands more women may have missed out on a breast screening invitation, a leading cancer expert has warned
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed in May that 450,000 women aged 68 to 71 had not been invited to their final routine screening due to a computer glitch dating back to 2009.
But Professor Peter Sasieni said the problems could have started as early as 2005 and could have been spotted earlier.
Public Health England (PHE) said his analysis was “flawed” and an independent review would look into all aspects of the screening scandal.
Prof Sasieni, a cancer screening and prevention researcher at King’s College London, studied data from the breast cancer screening programme between 2004 and 2017, looking at the number of eligible women who were sent invitations each year from the ages of 45 to 70.
PA:Press Association Earlier this month Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed 450,000 had not been invited to their final routine screening due to a computer glitch
In a letter published in medical journal The Lancet, Prof Sasieni said that between 2004 and 2005 – when the programme was extended to the age of 70 – the number of invitations sent to women aged 65 to 70 was “very low”.
He found that the number of eligible women aged 65-70 sent screening invitations was two to three per cent lower than those in the group aged 55-64.
A third of eligible women aged 65-70 should have been invited every year but Prof Sasieni claimed the figures showed it was 31 per cent in 2005-06, rising to almost 35 per cent in 2016-17.
By comparison, between 34 per cent and 38 per cent of people aged 50 to 64 were invited each year.
The difference meant more than 500,000 could have missed out on invitations since 2005, he concluded.
Getty – Contributor Some 500,000 women could be at risk of breast cancer because of the screening glitch
“Data that might have alerted people to the lower-than-expected number of invitations being sent to women aged 70 were publicly available, but no-one looked at them carefully enough,” the letter said.
“Some of the fault lies in the way the data was presented, but it is also unclear whose responsibility it is to monitor such outcomes.”
Dr Emma Pennery, Clinical Director at Breast Cancer Care, said the findings were “unsettling” and called for the independent inquiry into the scandal to start as soon as possible.
“The errors have exposed failings in more than technology – we are hearing every day on our helpline from women who have been left in the dark about screening continuing past 70, when routine invitations stop,” she said.
“There are two sides of the coin, screening has risks as well as benefits, and we cannot expect women to make an empowered decision if they are not given crucial information and support.
“It is essential we get this right not only for the hundreds of thousands of women affected today but also for anyone making these decisions in the future.”