Councillors call for cancer screening age to be lowered

Councillors call for cancer screening age to be lowered

11 September 2019

TWO local politicians have joined forces to call for a review of the age that people can be screened to detect a variety of cancers, in particular, bowel and breast cancer.

Downpatrick councillors John Trainor and Oonagh Hanlon are to raise the issue at next month’s meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council when they will jointly table a notice of motion on the issue.

The motion will call on Department of Health Permanent Secretary, Richard Pengelly, to bring cancer screening services in line with other areas of the UK and Ireland. The motion will also call for a lowering of the age when women can be screened to detect potential breast cancer.

Concern about screening for a range of cancers was raised at last week’s meeting of the Down Community Health Committee and, currently in Northern Ireland, around 1,200 men and women are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year, making it the second most common cancer.

Sadly, it is also the second most common cause of cancer death with about 420 people losing their life to the disease each year

Cllrs Trainor and Hanlon share the view of many that if diagnosed early, bowel cancer is highly treatable. They say breast cancer accounts for 30% of all cancer in women in Northern Ireland, with one in eight diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. 

The age for bowel cancer screening in Northern Ireland starts at 60 whilst in Scotland it starts at 50 and, following recommendations from the UK National Screening Committee, the age in England and Wales will be lowered to 50.

In the Republic of Ireland, bowel cancer screening starts at 60 but the programme is being amended to start at 55. The current age for breast screening is between 50 and 70, the same as the rest of the UK. In the Republic, people aged between 50 and 67 can be screened for this cancer.

Cllrs Trainor and Hanlon say that NHS England has introduced a trial to examine the effectiveness of offering some women one extra screening between the ages of 47 and 49 and one between the ages of 71 and 73. They argue that Northern Ireland is “lagging behind” when it comes to breast and bowel screening.

“It is widely recognised that early diagnosis and intervention for both bowel and breast cancers offers patients a better chance of successful treatment,” said Cllr Trainor. “Both can be treated if caught at an early stage. 

“Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer affecting men and women and results in over 400 deaths a year, making it the second most common in cancer related deaths.”

Cllr Trainor said it is “unacceptable” that the screening programme for bowel cancer across the Province has not changed whilst in other areas in the UK and Ireland the age for screening and the type of screening test has been changed to ensure that people have the best possible chance of catching this horrible disease at the earliest point and are able to receive treatment.

Cllr Hanlon said breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer amongst women, suggesting there is a good chance of recovery if the disease is detected at any early stage.

“We only have to  observe the success of the Action Cancer bus which is always fully booked when visiting rural locations. It provides a screening service for ladies who fall outside the NHS guidelines,” she explained.

“For many, it has been a lifesaving appointment and for others it provides peace of mind that changes can be detected. Screening must not be a postcode lottery and I believe that screening ages should be uniform. The fact that NHS England recognise the need for lower screening age yet again highlights inequalities in health care for women residing here.”