Serious failure in English breast cancer screening may have shortened lives: minister

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Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, said the furore over the error has resulted in "unnecessary worry" for women who may not have received a screening invitation.

"There has always got to be some blame these things don't just happen ... it is never the computer that goes wrong it is the person that put the information in or took it out", he said.

Presumably this is an estimate of the number of women who would have been diagnosed at this final screen, and would subsequently have benefited from the screening.

Of the 450,000 women affected, 150,000 had died.

Almost half of the women - 48 percent - experienced negative financial impact from breast cancer, but the researchers said it was strikingly higher among black women. This is important: some of the women affected will be nearly 80 years old and, depending on their general health, there is a risk they could undergo treatment for lesions that would be so slow-growing they would never have caused any problems.

Cancer charities have called the blunder "appalling" while GP leaders said they were "shocked".

Hunt announced an independent review into the scandal and said it was "totally devastating to hear that you have lost, or are about to lose, a loved one because of administrative incompetence".

He ordered an independent review to establish the clinical impact, but said that it was "not clear whether any delay in diagnosis resulted in harm or death". But the NHS screening computer programme appears to have cancelled it, which means some women entering the trial had their final screening aged 67 or 68.

"Clearly we're very sorry for what happened", the Medical Director said, "and it is a system that we provide along with colleagues from NHS England, the Department of Health".

The technical issue dates back from 2009 until this year, and the 309,000 people still alive will be sent a letter by the end of May asking them to come to hospital for an urgent scan.

Women in England between the ages of 50 and 70 are automatically invited for breast cancer screening every three years by the state-run National Health Service. And women under 72 will also receive an appointment for a mammogram. About 141,000 of the women affected, who should have been invited for a scan when aged 68 to 71, are now dead.

Men with a false-positive prostate cancer screening were at least 22% more likely to obtain future colorectal cancer screenings (AOR, 1.22 [P =.039] for men who did not undergo prostate imaging/biopsy; AOR, 1.60 [P =.028] for men managed with imaging/biopsy).

A helpline has been set up for anyone who is concerned that they might have been among those missed - 0800 169 2692.

The fault was discovered by Public Health England, which oversees the programme on behalf of the NHS, earlier this year. "Ministers must explain why this issue was allowed to go on for so long and why the problem wasn't identified earlier".

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