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NHS apologises to high-risk patients not told about annual breast screening checks

NHS apologises to high-risk patients not told about annual breast screening checks

The NHS has written to almost 1,500 women at very high risk of breast cancer who have missed out on annual check-ups to screen for the disease over the past two decades.

An urgent catch-up programme will be offered to 1,487 women who are at high risk because of radiotherapy treatment they had received for Hodgkin lymphoma.

Most of the women affected would already be enrolled in the NHS Breast Screening Programme, NHS England said but they will now be invited for an annual MRI and annual mammogram as soon as possible.

A letter to health professionals said that communications had been sent to all women affected and a dedicated helpline was being set up but that they appreciated general practice staff may receive queries about the invitations.

It clarified that GPs cannot refer women to the breast screening very high-risk programme because referrals would only be accepted from an oncologist or because women were in a database listing them as needing screening after radiotherapy.

‘If a GP has a patient who had radiotherapy to above the waist for the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma when aged 10 – 35 years who believes that they have been affected by this issue but have not received a letter then they can advise their patient to contact the Helpline who can arrange for her case to be reviewed,’ the letter said.

‘To do this the patient will be asked for their NHS number and date of birth to accurately identify her case’.

A set of frequently asked questions about the programme to identify and manage risk in this group had also been published to advise women and healthcare professionals.

Steve Russell, NHS national director for vaccinations and screening, said: ‘The NHS is contacting 1,487 women at increased risk of breast cancer due to having radiotherapy involving their chest for Hodgkin lymphoma, who may not yet have been offered additional annual screening.

‘While most of these women are already enrolled in the NHS Breast Screening Programme for regular mammograms, all women affected will now be offered support and invited for an annual MRI, and in most cases an annual mammogram, as soon as possible – the NHS will aim to complete this within three months.

He added: ‘We would like to extend our sincere apologies to those affected for any additional worry this may have caused – anyone who has had prior radiotherapy to their chest for the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma and who is concerned they have not been invited for an annual MRI can call our dedicated helpline for support and further information.’

It comes as the latest figures show that despite a small increase in uptake last year, more than a third of women did still not take up the offer of a mammography.

A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication Pulse

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