Date: 
October 3, 2014

Government must keep promise to extend BreastCheck to 65-69 age group, says Irish Cancer Society

The Government must keep its promise to screen women between the ages of 65-69 for breast cancer, says the Irish Cancer Society. The Government said the extension of BreastCheck would take place during 2014 but then made a decision to defer it. At least eighty-seven lives are being lost to breast cancers every year due to the delay in screening the upper age group of women.

The Irish Cancer Society was joined by cancer campaigners from across Ireland as they submitted a petition to Government, calling on the Minister for Health to take action and include extending the screening programme in the HSE’s Services Plan for 2015.

“What we are asking for is very straightforward and is a commitment already made by Government,” says Kathleen O’Meara, Head of Advocacy and Communications at the Irish Cancer Society. “We know that screening women between the ages of 65-69 will save at least an additional 87 lives every year. These are the lives of our mothers, daughters, aunts and sisters. It is common sense to put money into a programme that has such a measurable and life-saving impact. We are asking the Minister for Health not to forget about the promises that have been made and to commit funding the BreastCheck extension in the HSE’s Services Plan for 2015.”

A report commissioned by the Department of Health says that the cost of extending BreastCheck would be a maximum of €2.9 million or a minimum of €1.6 million, which the Society says is a relatively small amount in the context of the annual health budget and is an initiative that will actually save lives.

The Irish Cancer Society has lobbied for the extension of BreastCheck prior to the general election and campaigned for the extension to be included in the Programme for Government. Ms. O’Meara says that it is disappointing that despite the Government’s own commitments, no resources have yet been put in place to support their objective to screen the upper age group.

“The Government clearly recognises that extending BreastCheck makes common sense because they included it in their Programme for Government and it was an election issue that Fine Gael campaigned on prior to the last general election,” continued Ms. O’Meara. “The Irish Cancer Society is very disappointed that we have seen inaction on this issue to date and are calling for this life-saving screening service to be extended to women who need it. Women who are 60-69 years old have the second highest incidence of breast cancer and the second highest risk of dying from it. Yet only the 60-64 age group are currently being screened.”

One in ten of all breast cancers occur in the 65-69 age group. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says that quality screening mammography carried out every two years in women who are 50-69 years of age should reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer by about 35%. This means that one life will be saved for every 500 women screened.

This call comes as the Irish Cancer Society prepares for Paint it Pink Day on Friday, October 3rd. The Society is calling on men and women throughout Ireland to come together in the fight against breast cancer by doing something big or small to Paint it Pink, and raise money for the Society’s work across breast cancer funding vital research and initiatives such as this campaign to extend the screening service so more lives can be saved.

A HIQA report (Jan 2010) recommended the extension of BreastCheck to women aged 65-69 years. The EU Advisory Committee on Cancer Prevention recommends that asymptomatic women, aged 50-69 years, should be screened every two to three years. When compared to 29 other countries with national screening programmes, 24 have extended to this age range. Countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Norway all screen women aged 65-69.

The Irish Cancer Society is also using its Paint it Pink campaign to encourage women who are aged between 50-64 and have been invited to their free breast screening appointment by BreastCheck, to attend their appointment. Anyone who is concerned about breast cancer should contact the Irish Cancer Society’s National Cancer Helpline Freefone 1800 200 700 or visit www.cancer.ie.