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Breast cancer: proportion of women screened after their first invitation falls to decade low

24 February, 2016: The proportion of women aged 50-70 screened for breast cancer after their first invitation fell to 63.3 per cent in 2014-15, down from 65.8 per cent last year and 70.1 per cent in 2004-5.

*HSCIC must be quoted as the source of these figures

*Regional and local data are available within this report

Under the NHS Breast Screening Programme3, eligible4 women will usually receive their first routine invitation for breast cancer screening between the ages of 50 and 53 and will normally be invited every three years until they are 70.

2.11 million women aged 45 and over were screened in 2014-15, compared to 2.08 million women in 2013-14, an increase of 1.3 per cent.

The figures are contained in Breast Screening Programme, England, 2014-15 published today by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). The report also shows:

Coverage as at 31 March 2015

Coverage of the programme is assessed as the proportion of eligible 53 to 70-year-old women who have been screened adequately within the last three years5.

  • Coverage of women aged 53 to 70 was 75.4 per cent at 31 March 2015, compared with 75.9 per cent at the same point in 2014, down from a peak of 77.2 per cent in 2011.
  • This is the fourth year in a row that coverage has fallen.
  • Nationally, coverage is still above the NHS Cancer Screening Programme's minimum standard of 70 per cent6.
  • Coverage was above the national minimum standard of 70 per cent in all regions7 except London, where it was 68.3 per cent. The East Midlands reported the highest coverage at 79.6 per cent.

Invitations for screening in 2014-15

The statistics on invitations cover a wider age range than the coverage figures, reflecting a randomised controlled trial that the majority of breast screening units (67 out of 80) are currently participating in to extend invitations for screening to women aged 47 to 49 and 71 to 73.8

  • The number of women aged 45 and over invited for screening increased by 2.3 per cent to 2.80 million, compared to 2.74 million in 2013-14
  • The number of women aged 71-74 invited to screening increased by 13.3 per cent to 85,800 in 2014-15, from 75,700 in 2013-14. This was due to the trial growing.

Cancers detected in 2014-15

The aim of breast screening is to reduce deaths from breast cancer by finding cancers too small to be felt by hand, classed as cancers of fewer than 15mm in diameter.

  • Of the 18,000 women who had cancers detected under the programme in 2014-15, 40.5 per cent (7,300 women) had invasive cancers too small to detect by hand. This compares with 39.9 per cent (7,200 women) in 2013-14.
  • The age profile of women with cancer detected by the screening programme shows the incidence of breast cancer increasing with age. Detection rates were lowest for women aged 50 to 54 and 55 to 59 (6.7 per 1,000 women screened) and highest for women over 70 (14.8 per 1,000 women screened).

Responsible Statistician Pritpal Rayat said: "All of us know someone who has been affected by breast cancer, be it a friend, an aunt, a sister, a mother. This report sheds light on the important programme that can detect this disease early.

"These statistics show the falling proportion of women at the younger end of the programme's target group who are being screened after they get their first invitation. I hope the report can help women, health professionals, campaigners and others to understand how the programme is working and areas for future focus."

You can view the full report at:


Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) was established on April 1 2013 as an Executive Non Departmental Public Body (ENDPB). It is England's trusted data source, delivering high quality information and IT systems to drive better patient services, care and outcomes. Its work includes publishing more than 220 statistical publications annually; providing a range of specialist data services; managing informatics projects and programmes and developing and assuring national systems against appropriate contractual, clinical safety and information standards.
  2. Percentages in this press release are rounded to one decimal place. Figures over a million are rounded to the nearest 10,000. Figures over 1,000 and 10,000 are rounded to the nearest hundred.
  3. Under the NHS Breast Screening Programme eligible women aged 50 to 70 are invited for screening every three years.
  4. A woman is eligible if she has not had a double mastectomy.
  5. A technically adequate screen is defined as one which gives sufficient detail to allow a decision to be made to refer for assessment or not. Coverage of the programme is currently assessed on the 53 to 70 age group, as all eligible women aged 50 to 70 are currently invited for screening every three years and may be first called at any time between their 50th and 53rd birthdays.
  6. More information about this standard can be found in Consolidated guidance on standards for the NHS Breast Screening Programme, April 2005, NHS Cancer Screening Programmes at:
  7. The nine reporting regions are; North East, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands, East of England, London, South East and South West.
  8. The randomised controlled trial of extending the programme to women aged 47-49 and 71-73 started at selected pilot sites in 2009 and by the end of March 2015, the period covered by this report, 67 out of 80 breast screening units were taking part in the trial.
  9. For media enquiries please contact or 0300 30 33 888.
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