Miles Briggs: Extend the breast cancer screening age range to save more lives

Breast cancer screening saves lives. Picture: PA
Breast cancer screening saves lives. Picture: PA
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Scotland’s breast cancer screening programme, designed to help early identification of the signs of what is the most common cancer in Scottish women, has been a major success story, helping save the lives of thousands of women in Scotland. I pay tribute to all the hard-working NHS staff who help deliver this screening across the country. Screening is crucial as it is estimated that over half of invasive breast cancers detected by screening would have been unlikely to have been found by a physical examination alone.

Breast cancer screening is currently offered to all women in Scotland aged between 50 and 70. However, more and more women under the age of 50 are now being diagnosed with breast cancer. Official figures show 239 women aged 45-49 were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990 but that number has been rising steadily ever since then and has been more than 430 in each of the last three years for which statistics are available – 2012, 2013 and 2014. 

Scottish Conservative MSP Miles Briggs. Picture: Greg Macvean

Scottish Conservative MSP Miles Briggs. Picture: Greg Macvean

I believe therefore that we need to do more and that it’s only right that we now look at lowering the screening ages to help deal with this, recognising that screening technology is becoming ever more advanced and effective. All of us know that detecting cancer early is vital for improving survival rates, and it’s essential that we offer it to all those who might be likely to develop the disease, including women in their late-40s. 

With trials of an extended screening age range currently on-going south of the Border, I can see no reason why the Scottish Government couldn’t introduce a similar programme in Scotland and I am calling on it to move ahead and ensure our national screening programme is updated and can help even more women across the country who might be at risk of developing breast cancer. 

Miles Briggs is a Lothian MSP, the Scottish Conservatives spokesman on public health and co-convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Cancer