Thursday 17 October 2019

Breast and bowel tests now under scrutiny as public fear screening

Simon Harris
Simon Harris
Stock Image: Getty Images
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The national cancer screening programmes aiming to reduce some of our biggest killers are under pressure after criticism about how they are run.

BreastCheck, which offers free mammograms to women aged 50-69, needs to improve its information management, according to Hiqa.

It warned that the shortcomings in governance structures at BreastCheck have the potential to impact on the quality of the breast cancer screening service.

It comes against a background in a fall in take-up.

The most recent statistics for 2016 show the overall uptake rate at 74.7pc, compared with 76.5pc the previous year.

BreastCheck can only be effective in achieving its goal of reducing the number of mortalities from breast cancer in the population if at least 70pc of eligible women attend their screenings.

It emerged earlier this year in an external review of BowelScreen, which aims to reduce the incidence of bowel cancer, that 13 patients' illnesses had been missed.

The external review revealed that despite repeated alerts by a member of staff in Wexford Genreal Hospital about the standard of colonoscopies - an invasive form of investigation - carried out by one consultant, no action to recall patients was taken for a year. The worker highlighted the issues with the consultant on five occasions both to the hospital and BowelScreen.

The concern comes in the wake of the scandal over CervicalCheck where more than 208 women whose smear test gave a false negative test went on to develop cervical cancer.

More than 162 of the women had not been told that CervicalCheck carried out an internal report into their case which confirmed a mistake had been made.

The HSE yesterday refused to say if the patients who went through BreastCheck and BowelScreen had internal reports carried out on them which they were not notified about.

The failure to disclose this information will raise fears about the standards of communication in both screening programmes.

A survey commissioned by the Irish Cancer Society found that many people fear bowel screening.

One-in-four says a cancer diagnosis is a "death sentence".

The public's fatalistic view is higher among men than women, representing lower BowelScreen uptake among males and it continues to have a low uptake rate.

This false belief is more common in non-users of the home based bowel-screening test than users.


Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in Ireland, with 2,700 people here being diagnosed with the disease each year.

Overall, more than three in five (62.6pc) people with bowel cancer will survive for at least five years and 95pc of people diagnosed at stage 1 will survive this disease.

Bowel cancer most commonly occurs in people over 60 years of age.

The BowelScreen programme offers a free home test to men and women aged 60 to 69 every two years.

Sixty per cent of bowel cancer cases occur in men.

Irish Independent

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