Closed petition Lower the age that breast screening services are offered

I would like the breast screening age to be lowered and offered to men. The screening programme says that it is more common for 50+ year olds to be diagnosed with breast cancer however I was 27 when diagnosed. I have had to undergo chemotherapy and will need surgery and radiotherapy.

More details

Breast cancer does not only affect women over 50, it affects many women in their 20s, 30s and 40s and they aren’t offered screening unless there is a family history or an abnormality that they must find themselves. Men can also be affected by breast cancer so are equally entitled to screenings.

Early detection could mean women have treatment at an earlier stage, and early action should prevent deaths and mean simpler treatment as it would be caught sooner.

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Government responded

This response was given on 1 October 2020

We’re committed to reducing lives lost to breast cancer; a devastating disease affecting all ages. Currently, the UK National Screening Committee recommends women aged 50 -71 are screened.

Read the response in full

Breast cancer can be a devastating disease, affecting people of all ages and genders.

The Government recognises your concerns and is committed to the early detection and treatment of breast cancer as part of our commitment to detect 75% of cancers at stage 1 or 2, and for 55,000 more people to survive cancer for five years in England each year from 2028, as detailed in the NHS Long Term Plan.

As you rightly identify, population screening programmes are crucial to detecting cancer as early as possible and therefore increasing the likelihood of survival through early treatment. The NHS Breast Screening Programme (NHS BSP) in England offers all women aged between 50 and their 71st birthday the opportunity to be screened every three years for breast cancer, in order to detect abnormalities.

Breast screening is offered from age 50 because the chance of developing breast cancer increases with age: four out of five breast cancers develop in women over 50. The 2012 UK independent review of breast cancer screening (the Marmot review) estimated that inviting women aged 50-70 reduces mortality from breast cancer in the population invited by 20% and saves an estimated 1,300 lives a year. You can read the review here: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/prod_consump/groups/cr_common/@nre/@pol/documents/generalcontent/breast-screening-report.pdf

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) advises the Government and the NHS on all aspects of screening. The UK NSC will only recommend a screening programme when it can be demonstrated that the benefits of the programme clearly outweigh any harm they may cause, for example from false positives or overtreatment. You can find the criteria here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/evidence-review-criteria-national-screening-programmes/criteria-for-appraising-the-viability-effectiveness-and-appropriateness-of-a-screening-programme.

There is little evidence to show that regular mammograms for women below the current screening age would result in reduced deaths from breast cancer. The Marmot review found that screening women outside the ages of 50-70 years could lead to over-diagnosis (referring women for unnecessary tests) and over-treatment (operating on women with disease which is unlikely to cause serious harm to them). Not all breast cancers can be detected early when they are non-invasive, and some women with non-invasive disease would never develop cancer during their lifetime. Abnormalities that would never have developed into a cancer would be found and treated, potentially causing unnecessary harm and anxiety.

The UK NSC recognises that screening programmes are not static and over time may need to change to be more effective. They are constantly assessing the latest evidence and change their advice accordingly. Changes to a programme can be submitted to the Committee for consideration throughout the year: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-nsc-evidence-review-process/uk-nsc-evidence-review-process

There is a great deal of research currently being undertaken to better understand the early onset of cancer and the extension of screening to ages beyond the scope of the current programme. There are several trials in the NHS BSP that are seeking to understand the early development of conditions that can lead to breast cancer (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/breast-screening-the-sloane-project; www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/find-a-clinical-trial/a-trial-comparing-surgery-with-active-monitoring-for-low-risk-dcis-loris). There is also a trial currently underway that is investigating whether extending screening to those aged 47-49 and 71-73 would be effective. It is the biggest trial of its kind ever to be undertaken and will provide robust evidence about the effectiveness of screening in these age groups, including the benefit and harms. The UK NSC will review the publication of the age extension trial when it reports in 2026. You can read more about the trial here: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/find-a-clinical-trial/a-study-to-evaluate-an-age-extension-of-the-nhs-breast-screening-programme

There is substantial international evidence on the effectiveness of breast screening. A group of 29 independent international experts from 16 countries, convened by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), assessed the cancer-preventive and adverse effects of various methods of screening for breast cancer in 2015. The findings support the current age at which women are first invited for breast screening in England and the three-year interval period between invitations. The IARC review found that the evidence for the effectiveness of screening women in the younger age group of 40-49 was limited. The review can be found here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277782023_Breast-Cancer_Screening_-_Viewpoint_of_the_IARC_Working_Group.

Department of Health and Social Care

Other parliamentary business

MPs to debate breast cancer screening

MPs will debate breast cancer screening this Wednesday 16 December in Westminster Hall.

This will be a general debate. General debates allow MPs to debate important issues, however they do not end in a vote nor can they change the law.

The debate will start at 2.30pm and last for 90 minutes.

Watch the debate: https://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/795ef39d-6189-43bd-ad0c-9466c219a1b2

Find out more about how Parliamentary debates work: https://www.parliament.uk/about/how/business/debates/

Government launches public survey on a new Women's Health Strategy

The Government has launched a public survey, to help decide on what should be included in its new Women’s Health Strategy for England.

They want to hear from women of all ages and backgrounds about their healthcare experiences. This will help the Government consider possible changes to NHS services.

The survey is open to anyone aged 16 or over.

Share your experiences with the Government here, by 30 May:
https://consultations.dhsc.gov.uk/talkwomenshealth

Specifically, the Government wants to hear views on the following themes:

  1. Placing women’s voices at the centre of their health and care
  2. Improving the quality and accessibility of information and education on women’s health
  3. Ensuring the health and care system understands and is responsive to women’s health and care needs across the life course
  4. Maximising women’s health in the workplace
  5. Ensuring research, evidence and data support improvements in women’s health
  6. Understanding and responding to the impacts of COVID-19 on women’s health

Find out more about the Strategy, and the issues the Government wants to hear about in its survey, here:
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-launches-call-for-evidence-to-improve-health-and-wellbeing-of-women-in-england

Read the full Call for Evidence here:
https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/womens-health-strategy-call-for-evidence

What is the Women's Health Strategy?

The Government has promised to develop a new Women's Health Strategy. The Strategy will aim to improve the health and wellbeing of women across England, and ensure NHS services in England are meeting women's needs.

In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, health services are the responsibility of the devolved Governments, so the Strategy will only apply to England.

Who is running the consultation?

The consultation is being run by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Government Department responsible for the NHS and oversight of social care in England.

Find out more about DHSC:
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-of-health-and-social-care

MPs hold inquiry into cancer services in England

The House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee is holding an inquiry into why cancer outcomes in England continue to lag behind comparable countries internationally. The Committee is examining evidence relating to the underlying causes of these differences.

The Committee is also considering what impact disruption to cancer services during the covid-19 pandemic have had on efforts to catch up, and whether the ambitions set out in the NHS Long Term Plan will help close the gap with the best performing countries worldwide.

Read about the inquiry here: https://committees.parliament.uk/work/1377/cancer-services/news/156443/mps-seek-evidence-on-why-england-lags-behind-in-cancer-survival/

You can find future announcements about the inquiry here: https://committees.parliament.uk/work/1377/cancer-services/

The submission period for written evidence for this inquiry has now passed, but you can view submitted written evidence here: https://committees.parliament.uk/work/1377/cancer-services/publications/

We’re letting you know about this inquiry because you signed a petition calling on the Government to lower the age that breast screening services are offered, and we thought this inquiry may be of interest to you.

What is the Health and Social Care Committee?

The Health and Social Care Committee scrutinises the work of the Department of Health and Social Care and its associated public bodies. It examines government policy, spending and administration on behalf of the electorate and the House of Commons. It's a cross-party committee and is independent of the Government.

Find out more on their website: https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/81/health-and-social-care-committee/

You can get updates on their work by following the Committee on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/CommonsHealth

This is a ‘select committee’. Find out how Select Committees work:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_2RDuDs44c

You can also sign up to the UK Parliament newsletter for the latest information on how to get involved and make a difference: https://learning.parliament.uk/en/your-uk-parliament-newsletter-sign-up-form/