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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 00:04 GMT
Drive to promote cancer screening
Cervical smears can save lives
Every woman eligible for a smear test or mammogram is to be sent a leaflet setting out the benefits of screening.

The move, by the Department of Health, is an attempt to provide women with a clear and honest account of the facts.

Our screening programme for breast and cervical cancer represents health services to be proud of

Lord Hunt
Ministers are keen to foster a more open relationship with patients.

They fear that public confidence has been shaken by high profile scandals such as the Bristol babies tragedy.

And they are concerned that many women are not fully aware of just how important screening can be.

Health Minister Lord Hunt said there were "misconceptions" among the public about the purpose and accuracy of screening.

He said women needed to know that although the programmes have many fail-safes built in, mistakes do sometimes happen or a cancer may not show up.

The move comes as statistics published in the NHS Breast Screening Programme Annual Review 2001 show the programme has detected more cancers than ever.

'Nothing is perfect'

Lord Hunt said: "Screening cannot be perfect. It cannot be flawless, some cancers cannot be seen on the X-ray at all.

Julietta Patnick
Julietta Patnick welcomed the initiative
"Cervical testing is not 100% accurate, it may not always detect early cell changes that may lead to cancer.

"And that is why we are launching the new information leaflet. It is important we continually provide the most robust information we can about effectiveness.

"Our screening programme for breast and cervical cancer represents health services to be proud of.

"The services they provide will be improved and informed if women are making informed choices. It is part of the drive for openness and transparency within the NHS.

"We are much more likely to produce a successful NHS if it's on the basis of trust and this is a very important step down this route. There are an enormous number of lessons to be learned."

Adult relationship

We see it as the beginning of a more open and adult relationship with women

Julietta Patnick
Julietta Patnick, national coordinator of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said: "We see it as the beginning of a more open and adult relationship with women than perhaps we have had in the past.

"It is the first time we have had a national information leaflet for every single woman in the country with her invitation for screening."

The leaflets meet the commitment in the NHS Cancer Plan that all women should receive a national information leaflet on breast and cervical screening by 2001.

They include an explanation about false positive and negative results, how reliable the tests are and what happens to women's records.

The NHS offers cervical screening to all women aged between 20 and 64. All women aged between 50 and 64 are invited for breast screening every three years.

Dr Peter Sasieni, senior scientist and screening expert at Imperial Cancer Research Fund said: "These new leaflets are a welcome move towards a more open health service.

"We hope that all women will find them clear and informative and that they will encourage women to keep their screening appointments."

Dr Sasieni said his research showed that cervical screening alone saves about 1,300 lives a year in England and Wales.

Separate research suggests women who attend regular breast screenings may reduce their risk of dying from breast cancer by more than 50%.

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