Rural-urban divide on breast screening

Women living in urban areas are less likely to attend the national breast cancer screening service than those living in the rural counties, new figures show.

A county-by-county breakdown from BreastCheck has revealed big discrepancies between counties, and the HSE said it has also noticed a slowdown in the number of new women attending.

High-density urban areas had a lower uptake than rural counties, and Dublin had the lowest percentage uptake, the figures show. However, no county fell below the target of 70% attendance. The service has even taken to Facebook to remind women over the age of 50 to attend their free examination.

According to the HSE and BreastCheck, findings include:

  • The national attendance average is 77%;
  • Kilkenny had a 91% take-up rate, the highest percentage of women screened of any county. Some 5,521 women in Kilkenny out of 6,058 invitees attended for their check.

Other findings include:

  • Dublin at 73% had the lowest uptake with 73,779 women out of 100,790 invitees availing of the X-ray;
  • 74% of women in Limerick, Longford, Meath and Offaly who were contacted, took up the offer;
  • 76% of women availed of BreastCheck in Kerry in the period — though some areas were much lower than others, the spokesman said;
  • Cork registered 78% or 34,432 out of 44,353 women who were invited.

Overall, some 283,233 women were tested out of 368,649 invitees during 2015 and 2016. The figures are based on a two-year model.

BreastCheck is also worried that there was “a slight drop off in the number of new women aged 50-52 attending their mammograms”.

A spokesperson said women who attend BreastCheck for the first time are more likely to attend subsequent appointments.

In a statement, the HSE added that “higher urban density populated counties” tend to have lower uptake. Socio-economic issues may be a factor as well as “travelling times to attend screening” which can also have an impact on attendance.

BreastCheck has 16 mobile units which are dispersed nationwide and are located in villages and towns to increase the access for women to attend for a screening as close to their home as possible.

By the end of 2021, the routine screening — introduced for the 50 to 64 age group — is being extended to all eligible women between the ages of 50 and 69 . The roll out is on a phased basis.

“The aim of BreastCheck is to reduce deaths from breast cancer by finding and treating the disease at an early stage. BreastCheck encourages all women who receive an invitation to attend their appointment,” according to the service’s mission statement.

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