ONLY half of women invited for potentially life-saving breast screenings to detect signs of cancer are going to their appointments.
Figures show that just 52 per cent of women aged 50 to 70 in the Portsmouth area are attending their first referrals.
Between April 2015 and March this year, out of the 12,116 women invited for screenings by Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, only 6,400 attended.
Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham, along with its mobile unit which travels across the Portsmouth area, offers free mammograms for women when they turn 50.
But Jo Helsdon, programme manager for Breast Screening, said women are not responding to their letters – and has called on this to change.
Today marks national campaign Wear It Pink, organised by research charity Breast Cancer Now, as part of awareness month of the disease. The News has turned its masthead pink for the day and hundreds of people across the Portsmouth area are dressing in the colour and holding cake sales to raise awareness for breast cancer.
As part of the campaign, which is in its 15th year, women are being encouraged to get screened and be aware of possible symptoms.
Ms Helsdon said getting breasts screened does save lives.
‘Mammograms pick up small changes that women would not notice,’ she said.
‘They can detect problems earlier and for most cases the earlier the cancer is found the better the outcome.
Mammograms pick up small changes that women would not noticeJo Helsdon
‘It does save lives and is so important.
‘We offer screenings for women once they turn 50 but in Portsmouth our uptake in first screenings is very low.
‘Women say fear and embarrassment is stopping them from going but they have no reason to feel that way.’
Women who have previously been screened are invited back every three years.
Of those, 78 per cent of women are attending follow-up appointments.
Between April 2015 and March this year, out of 24,868 invited, 19,605 women attended their screenings.
Overall attendance for the Portsmouth Screening Programme for the same period – which takes in both first and follow-up appointments – was 71 per cent. The national target for uptake is 80 per cent.
Ms Helsdon added: ‘Our uptake on follow-up appointments is still below the national target but is a lot higher than first-time screenings. That shows that once women have it done, they are happy to come back.
‘In Portsmouth, we are focusing on encouraging the 50 to 53-year-old women to come for screenings.’
On average, around 154 women in Portsmouth are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. And each year around 32 women in the city will die from the disease.
Breast cancer rates in Portsmouth have increased by 24 per cent over the past decade from 152 cases per 100,000 females between 2001 and 2003 to 189 cases per 100,000 females between 2012 and 2014.
Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs QA, has a mobile breast screening unit at Tesco in Havant. It will be there until mid-November before moving to Asda car park, off Dock Road in Gosport.
One woman who went to get screened after seeing a change in her nipple was Jessica Walton.
The mum-of-one, from Gosport, is encouraging women to get screened and check their breasts regularly.
Jessica, 38, first noticed a change in December last year and was treated at QA Hospital. She said: ‘Women are very aware that they need to check for lumps, but what I noticed was a change in the nipple – it was retracted.
‘I made an appointment to see my GP and I was referred to the breast clinic at QA very quickly.
‘The service at the breast clinic was amazing – you have all the services in one place so I had an ultrasound, biopsy and appointment with a consultant on the same day.
‘I felt very sure that I would be told that there was nothing to worry about so it was a real shock when I was told 10 days later I had breast cancer.
‘But the team couldn’t have been more supportive. Just nine weeks after seeing my GP, I had a mastectomy and reconstruction.’
Jessica had 18 weeks of chemotherapy from April onwards and has recently finished radiotherapy.
She will now be closely monitored by the team at QA.
She added: ‘I want to raise awareness of the fact that there are all sorts of symptoms of breast cancer, and to encourage women and men to go to their GPs if they are concerned.
‘It’s important to check yourself every month. There is this misconception that if you seek treatment it will take a long time to get answers but I’m proof that things can be spotted and treatment started very quickly.
‘I’d advise anyone to visit their GP if they notice a change in their breast. It could save your life.’
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it is marked all over the world.
Breast cancer is still the most common cancer in the UK and every year, Wear It Pink raises money to fund breast cancer researchers in the UK and Ireland.
Together, they are working to discover how to prevent breast cancer, how to detect it earlier and how to treat it effectively. Wear It Pink ambassador and patron of The Kings Theatre in Southsea Lisa Riley is proud to support the day. She said: ‘It’s such a fantastic, fun-filled event, which gets friends, family and colleagues together in support of Breast Cancer Now.
‘I lost my beautiful mum to breast cancer in 2012, and so I know the devastating effect this awful disease can have.’
One in eight women in the UK will face breast cancer in their lifetime and almost 12,000 women die from breast cancer every year in the UK.