You may not have received a screening invitation
Some women aged between 70 and 79 are being offered the opportunity for a breast screen. This is because some women did not receive an invitation for a final screen, as part of the routine NHS Breast Screening Programme.
The Breast Screening Programme usually invites women to have a screen once every 3 years when aged between 50 and 70 (up to their 71st birthday). This means women will usually receive their final screen sometime between their 68th and 71st birthdays.
Most women can be reassured that they will have received their final invitation but there are some women, now aged 70 to 79, who have missed an invitation due to a problem that dates back to 2009.
All affected women registered with a GP will receive a letter by the end of May with further information.
A helpline is also available: 0800 169 2692.
How do I know if I did not receive my final screening invitation?
All women affected who are registered with a GP will be informed by letter from Public Health England (PHE) by the end of May 2018.
Women affected aged up to their 72nd birthday will receive a letter inviting them for a catch-up screen.
Women aged 72 to 79 will receive a letter providing clear information on what to do next if they want to have a screen.
These women, aged 72 to 79, will be asked to contact the helpline on 0800 169 2692 (set up to support women about this issue) who will liaise with the local Breast Screening Service to arrange an appointment and invitation letter on their behalf.
Women, aged 70 to 79, currently registered with a GP, who do not receive a letter from PHE can be assured they are not affected and do not need a catch-up screen.
However, if you are not currently registered with a GP and believe you did not receive an invitation for a screen sometime between your 68th and 71st birthday, then we advise that you contact the helpline on 0800 169 2692.
Deciding whether or not to have a screen
Women aged 71 or over are not routinely invited for breast screening because the benefits of screening for this age group are unclear. Women over 71 can, however, make their own appointments for breast screening every 3 years if they wish.
PHE experts say the research evidence is uncertain about the benefits and harms of breast screening for women over 71. For some older women, screening may diagnose and treat a breast problem that would never go on to cause harm if left alone.
This is called “over diagnosis”. As women get older, there is a higher chance of “over diagnosis” than there is of having their life saved by screening.
To help with your decision you may find it helpful to read the following leaflet: Breast Screening For Women Over 70.
If you have noticed any changes to your breasts
If you have noticed any changes to your breasts or had any breast symptoms, see your GP.
Women who have developed breast cancer
If you are over 70 and have developed breast cancer, finding out you did not receive an invitation for a screen at the right time may be upsetting.
PHE experts say that in many cases missing a single breast screen at around 70 years of age is unlikely to make a significant difference to the course of a woman’s breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. However, it’s important to look at your individual case to see how you have been affected.
If you would like to discuss this with a nurse, ring the free helpline on 0800 169 2692. Please tell the helpline operator you have breast cancer and they will be able to support you.
Getting support and advice
A dedicated advice line has been set up. Call 0800 169 2692 if you need further support and advice.
How will I know if I missed a screen?
The women who have missed a screening invitation will now be aged 70 to 79.
Women being offered the opportunity for a screen will be informed by letter from PHE by the end of May 2018. If you choose to take up the offer of a screen, information on what you need to do will be provided in your letter.
What should I do now?
As usual, you should continue to be aware of any changes to your breasts and if you have any concerns you should see your GP.
If you do not receive a letter from PHE by the end of May 2018, and are registered with a GP in England, you can be reassured that you did not miss a screen.
If you do receive a letter from PHE informing you that you are affected, you will be offered the opportunity for a screen. To help you choose you may find it helpful to read the leaflet: Breast Screening For Women Over 70.
If you do choose to have a screen, information on what you need to do will be provided in your letter.
Should I contact my GP?
You do not need to contact your GP as all women affected will receive a letter from PHE by the end of May, which will provide information about what you need to do if you choose to have a screen.
At all times women should continue to be aware of any changes to their breasts and if changes occur, then they should see their GP.
Why wasn’t I sent my screening appointment at the right time?
During work to upgrade the NHS Breast Screening computerised invitation system, PHE identified a number of complex issues, which over time have contributed to variations in how local breast screening services send out their invitations.
The issues identified have only impacted on invitations to women when they were at the upper age limit of the programme, aged 68 to 71.
What is being done to ensure breast screening invitations are issued on schedule in future?
Urgent work has been carried out on the computerised invitation system and an additional failsafe has been introduced to ensure that the problem does not reoccur.
PHE is confident that all the issues have now been fixed and no further women will be affected. All the women registered with a GP in England who did not receive their final invitation will receive a letter from PHE and will be offered the opportunity for a catch-up screen.
Is anyone under 70 or over 80 affected?
No. A thorough review of the NHS breast screening invitation system has shown that only a small proportion of women at the upper age limit of the NHS programme, who were aged 70 to 71 were affected.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
- a lump in the breast
- a change in the size or shape of the breast
- dimpling of the skin or thickening in the breast tissue
- a nipple that’s turned in (inverted)
- a rash (like eczema) on the nipple
- discharge from the nipple
- swelling or a lump in the armpit
- pain or discomfort in the breast that doesn’t go away
A lump in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer.
Most breast lumps are not cancer. They are usually fluid-filled lumps (cysts) or a fibroadenoma, made up of fibrous and glandular tissue. But it is important to get anything that is unusual for you checked by your GP. The earlier breast cancer is treated, the more successful treatment is likely to be.