Celebrating more than 20 years of cancer screening

Published 3rd March, 2008

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New figures released today, to mark the 20th Anniversary of the NHS Breast and Cervical Screening Programmes, reveal that over 100,000 breast cancers and 400,000 significant cervical abnormalities1 have been detected since the programmes began in 1988. From that time over 70 million women in England have received potentially life saving cancer screening.

The data emphasise the pivotal role screening plays in the early detection and treatment of cancer. The anniversary is an important opportunity to remind people of the potential value of screening, particularly amongst those ethnic, socio-economic, and age groups less likely to accept their screening invitations.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson will today visit the Breast Screening Unit at King's College Hospital in London to meet staff and patients to mark this anniversary.

Statistics from the Breast Screening Programme over the last 20 years:

  • Over 18 million sets of mammograms have been taken
  • Over 100,000 cancers have been detected. This equates to over 100 cancers detected every week since 1988
  • It is estimated that 1,400 lives are saved every year through breast screening

Statistics from the Cervical Screening Programme over the last 20 years:

  • Approximately 64 million women in the target age group have been screened
  • Over 400,000 significant abnormalities have been detected
  • It is estimated that 4,500 lives are saved every year through cervical screening

Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Health said:
"The 20th anniversary of the NHS Breast and Cervical Screening Programmes is an ideal opportunity to remind people about the vital role screening plays in prevention and early diagnosis - key parts of the £370 million Cancer Reform Strategy I launched in December to build on the progress we have made tackling cancer over the past ten years."

"Despite all the progress, we are determined to do more. We have introduced a new HPV vaccine to help reduce cervical cancer; will extend the Breast Cancer Screening programme to all women aged 47 to 73 by 2012; and are investing £100 million in new digital mammography equipment. But the benefits of this investment cannot be fully recognised if people are unaware of how important screening is. We know, for example, that acceptance rates are lower in poorer communities and in BME communities, and that is why the Cancer Reform Strategy set out the need for local health services to develop targeted programmes to increase screening uptake in these communities."

Julietta Patnick, Director of NHS Cancer Screening Programmes commented;
"This anniversary is a great opportunity to reach out and inform people about cancer screening. The figures show how important the screening programmes are for the prevention and early detection of cancer in England. The earlier cancer is detected, the higher the chances of successful treatment."

"The NHS Cancer Screening Programmes are internationally recognised as world class services. But there are still challenges to overcome. We continue to support the local NHS in increasing awareness amongst those less likely to accept screening invitations. These include older women for breast screening, younger women for cervical screening, and people from lower socio-economic groups and black and minority ethnic communities."

The Government's Cancer Reform Strategy, published in December 2007, has outlined the planned extension of breast screening to cover women between 47 and 73 years old (from the current age range of 50 to 70), guaranteeing all women will be screened at least once by their 50th year. There will also be a £100m investment in digital mammography equipment, which is the best technology for detecting abnormalities in the breast tissue of pre-menopausal women.

The Government also committed to informing women of the result of their cervical screening test within two weeks of it being taken (by 2010). Liquid Based Cytology (LBC) roll out is now almost complete across the NHS Cervical Screening Programme. LBC is a new way of preparing cervical samples for examination in the laboratory, and dramatically reduces the number of repeat screening tests needed due to inadequate samples.

The NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme was launched in July 2006, and is being rolled out across England. The programme is scheduled to cover the whole of the country during the next year. The Cancer Reform Strategy has also announced that from 2010 the upper age limit for routine bowel cancer screening will rise from 70 to 75 - bringing an extra million men and women into the programme each year.

For further information, please contact the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes' press office on 020 7400 4499 or e-mail .

1'Significant cervical abnormalities' includes women with moderate or severe cell changes in the cervix (severe dyskaryosis or worse), which may or may not develop into cervical cancer, as well as a small number of cases where cancer may have already developed.