Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Attend Breast Screening, It Really Does Make Sense

Many people deride the NHS but very often they are people who don't use it. After having a fairly healthy life, 10 years ago I had to start using it regularly. It started with me needing a major operation, that had to be cancelled because between the time that I was told I needed the operation and actually getting the date for it, my husband died and I started to suffer from severe depression so my GP thought that the operation ought to be deferred for a while. Since then I have had two operations, a hysterectomy and an emergency cholecystectomy. I have had an angiogram to check what was causing the angina that I started to suffer from. And all the time I was suffering from depression. So I can be said to have had my money's worth from the NHS.

One of the things that the NHS does for women in this country is to provide screening for two types of cancer. We are screened for cervical cancer from our twenties, and for breast cancer from the age of 50. Both procedures are undignified and uncomfortable, but neither can be described as painful and what is a little discomfort when it can quite literally save your life. It is hoped that the costs of cervical screening will eventually reduce to almost nothing after the introduction of vaccination against the HPV this year, but that is something that is way in the future. Breast screening will have to carry on because there is no alternative at this time and breast cancer will affect approximately one out of every nine women over the age of 50. As with cervical screening, early diagnosis can save lives and as it is free, every woman should take advantage of it.

Now you might think that it is not my place to preach about this, but I went for my annual mammogram this afternoon. I have one annually because there is a high incidence of breast cancer in my family (on both sides); a permanent mobile screening unit belonging to one of the local hospitals is located in the car park of a local supermarket, so it is easy to get to and parking is free. You can also do your weekly shop if you want to.

While I was waiting to have my mammogram done this afternoon, I was talking to the radiographer who was going to be doing it. As we chatted away, I asked her what the take-up rate was like, and I was horrified to be told that of the 50 women who were scheduled to visit that day (presumably 25 in the morning and 25 in the afternoon), I was actually only the 15th to turn up. As I had been chatting with the lady who had the appointment before mine while we waited for the unit to open after lunch, it seems that only 13 of this morning's appointments were kept. If the same were to happen this afternoon then it would mean that nearly 50% of those with appointments did not attend.

The radiographer told me that the hospital had three other mobile screening units permanently located in other areas, and that the take-up rate at one of them was similar to that at the unit that I had attended, while the other two units had a better take-up rate. As I know what the other three areas are like, it struck me that the two that were located in fairly affluent areas had good attendance, whilst those in the poorer areas which have much larger ethnic minority populations seemed to suffer from low attendance.

It strikes me that it is a very sad state of affairs that something that is there to provide us with screening for a cancer which is often easily treatable if caught early, but which may require radical surgery if not detected until a later stage, is not being made use of by so many women who could benefit from it. It is something that the NHS does for all women, and none of them have a right to complain about any of the services that the NHS provides if they don't make use of this kind of facility.

We are as much responsible for our health as the NHS is; we cannot complain if we develop breast cancer but have not availed ourselves of a service which has a proven track record. Yes, errors will occur occasionally, but they are few compared with the number of cases of breast cancer that there would be if the screening service didn't exist.

So ladies, when you get the letter calling you for screening, don't ignore it and think that you won't get breast cancer. I knew that I was probably at greater risk than many people when I got my first call for screening, but I didn't expect there to be any problems. I was recalled, but fortunately further screening showed that it was only a large cyst. It has made me much more aware how important the screening is and the potential that it has for saving lives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well done you for so eloquently putting across this issue which is so emotive. You put your point across with so much conviction and belief that your post should be printed off and placed in the individual screening units and surgery Waiting Rooms for all to take note; not just women but men too (who could remind their female partners to take up the screening opportunity). Again, well done.