‘Without the scan, by the time I’d have found the tumour it would have been too late’

ALL CLEAR Diane McGahey. Picture: Steve Reid (122892-545)
ALL CLEAR Diane McGahey. Picture: Steve Reid (122892-545)
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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It was a procedure that took less than 10 minutes, but saved Diane McGahey’s life. The 58-year-old was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast in September 2007.

She had been invited to have a routine mammography at a mobile unit, which was in the car park of the Asda store in Fratton.

Diane, of Jervis Road, Stamshaw, says: ‘I’d had a mammogram previously, which had come back clear, and so I knew what to expect in the unit.

‘So the second time I went to the mobile unit in Fratton I wasn’t worried at all.’

After her screening, she received a letter asking her to go to the then Haslar Hospital, in Gosport, which specialised in breast care services.

‘One of my friends said she had been called back because the machine had been broken,’ adds Diane.

‘I thought maybe that’s why I was getting called back.

‘When I got there, they said the mammogram had shown a tumour.

‘I was shocked and had to go away and think about it. My daughters were with me and when my grandson Thomas, who was seven at the time, found out he was upset.’

Within a week Diane, who owned a cleaning company, was booked in for surgery to remove the tumour.

She says: ‘The staff there were really good.

‘They explained what would happen next and a week later I was booked in for surgery to have the tumour removed.

‘Soon after I was given the all-clear and didn’t have to have chemotherapy.

‘I had radiotherapy and now go for regular check-ups.

‘If I had never had the mammography done, then by the time I found the lump it would’ve been too late.

‘The mammogram saved my life.

‘Doctors said even with external checking, the tumour was so deep, I would never have felt it, and neither would they.’

Now Diane goes to Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham, every six months for a check-up and has a mammogram each year.

She is now urging all women eligible to go for their free breast screening appointment. It comes as Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust said the city has a low uptake of women that attend the free screening.

Last month letters were sent out to women eligible – those aged 50 to 70 – to have a mammogram.

In 2009, 3,025 women were invited, but only 72 per cent attended.

This figure is below the national average of 80 per cent, and so the trust wants to raise awareness of why it’s important to be screened.

Jo Helsdon, programme manager of the breast screening service at QA, said: ‘It’s incredibly important that women attend these appointments.

‘Finding breast cancer early makes it more treatable, so whether this is your first time or you’ve been screened before, please look out for your invitation.’

This year the trust is inviting around 3,945 women and hopes a higher number of attendees will come forward. This is a message backed by Diane, who says she treasures life with her family. She says: ‘If my friends say they might not go to their appointment, I tell them they must because it saved my life.

‘When you go for your screening it is a bit uncomfortable and embarrassing, and I can understand why women may not go because of the intrusion, but it is one that could save your life one day.

‘You are only in there for 10 minutes and that means nothing when it could save your whole life.’

She is now able to enjoy life with her husband Barney, 59, and spend time with her daughters Maria McGahey and Tammy Jones, and her grandchildren Thomas, 12, and Macie-Jo, four.

‘I treasure time with my family. A year after I was diagnosed my daughter had a little girl and I was at her birth,’ she says.

‘If the cancer hadn’t been caught this could all be a very different story. It is so important women get screened.

‘If they can’t make the appointment time given, then please rearrange and get checked. It’s so vital as it doesn’t take long and could save your life.’

Only 72 per cent of city’s women attend

Portsmouth is below the national average when it comes to women having free mammograms.

Every three years, women aged 50 to 70 receive a letter inviting them to a mobile unit to get screened.

In 2009, only 72 per cent of women attended, which means thousands of eligible women are going unchecked.

Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham, wants women to realise how important it is to attend the screenings.

Constantinos Yiangou, the trust’s chief of surgery and cancer, explains why women aged 50 to 70 are invited.

He says: ‘If you look at the incidents of breast cancer, it goes up as you get older and certainly after the age of 50 and increases into the 60s.

‘So the government has chosen an age group where there is a stronger likelihood of breast cancer to develop.

‘Mammography is also more accurate from the age of 50 up.

‘We therefore invite women aged 50 to 70 for a free mammogram every three years and is usually at a mobile unit, which travels the area.’

Mr Yiangou explains what happens at a mammography.

‘These screenings are sent back to QA for the results to be checked,’ he says.

‘If everything is fine, we don’t need to do anything else and we will tell you to come back again in three years for the next screening.

‘If something is found, then women are invited to the breast cancer unit at QA for further investigation.

‘The earlier a tumour is identified, then the better the outcome as it is easier to treat.

‘If it is discovered early on, then often surgery will do most of the work, and there won’t be a need to undergo chemotherapy.

‘Some women may find the mammogram a bit painful or uncomfortable, or perhaps they have heard someone tell them about a bad experience.

‘But for most they find it okay. A specialist female radiographer will do the mammogram and women’s privacy is respected.

‘The benefits of a mammogram outweigh the discomfort or embarrassment women might face. We urge women to make sure they go to their free appointments.’