BREASTCHECK never publishes advance screening schedules because women with breast cancer symptoms would delay going for a vital checkup, an Oireachtas committee was told last night.
Chief executive of the National Cancer Screening Service Board (NCSSB) Tony O’Brien told the Joint Committee on Health and Children that a three to four month delay in a breast cancer diagnosis could mean the difference between life and death.
Earlier, Mr O’Brien told Labour senator, Phil Prendergast, that a BreastCheck mobile unit would be moving to Clonmel in Co Tipperary at the end of the week.
He stressed, however, that the BreastCheck never published significantly advance schedules because they knew women with symptomatic breast cancer would put off going for a checkup and wait to be screened under the national programme.
“Early diagnosis of breast cancer is crucial and a delay of three to four months could be the difference between life and death,” said Mr O’Brien.
He also urged women to continue to be breast aware between checks by the national screening service because a mammography did not confer immunity from breast cancer.
BreastCheck provides free mammograms to women aged 50 to 64 every two years and is in the process of being rolled out nationally.
“Breast mammography does not confer immunity from breast cancer. There are cancers that cannot be detected and those that develop during the intervening period,” he warned.
“There is a phenomenon known as interval cancers — those that arise in between screenings. And there is a phenomenon known as a occult breast cancer that can never be seen on X-ray mammography,” he said.
Latest BreastCheck statistics show since 2000, 442,612 mammograms were carried out and 16,390 women recalled for further assessment. Over the period, 2,717 breast cancers have been detected.
BreastCheck is preparing to complete expansion into the west and south on an area by area basis. Mr O’Brien said it was made clear in December 2007 that it would take in excess of 24 months to complete the first screening round.
“BreastCheck remains on schedule for the introduction of the programme to all women in the remaining counties,” he stressed.
Mr O’Brien also said there were almost 4,000 smear-takers registered with CervicalCheck, established on a pilot basis in the mid-west in August and extended nationally on September 1.
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