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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 March, 2005, 18:15 GMT
Breast screening challenge issued
Image of mammography
Mammograms can pick up tumours
Breast cancer patients have challenged the next government to end long waits and extend screening services.

MPs heard the concerns of 50 women with breast cancer from around the UK.

Top of the list was waits for breast cancer diagnosis of up to 17 weeks and for radiotherapy treatment of up to 16 weeks.

They also called for annual screening for all women aged 40-49 with a significant family history of breast cancer.

Long waits

Currently, women have to wait until they are 50 to be offered screening under the national programme.

Health Secretary Dr John Reid heard how up to 40% of women who are eventually diagnosed with breast cancer can wait up to 17 weeks to get an appointment with a breast cancer specialist because their GP gave them a routine rather than urgent referral.

I am very well aware of the problem
Health Minister Dr John Reid

The government has a target for urgent referrals to be seen within two weeks.

Dr Reid said he was aware of the issue of non-urgent referrals and that it was something the government was looking into.

"I am very well aware of the problem that 99% of urgent cases are seen within a fortnight but that there are other people who were not seen as urgent cases and actually should have been.

With respect to treatment, he said large strides had been made in the last seven years, but that more still needed to be done.

Delayed diagnosis

"I believe we have made significant progress from where we were, but we are nowhere near perfection," he said.

He said the government was investing money both to speed up diagnosis and to buy more breast scanners, and also training more radiotherapists to carry out cancer treatments.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, which organised the conference, said: "Women tell us that waiting for diagnosis is incredibly traumatic and no one should have to wait more than two weeks to see a specialist."

Conservative shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said thousands of women were dying because the UK did not match leading European standards.

"Not enough patients are getting a key drug - Herceptin.

"The drug can double survival chances.

"The current postcode lottery is costing lives, but our approach will ensure that all who need this drug will get it. This will save lives every year," he said.

Liberal Democrat shadow health secretary Paul Burstow said targets did not reflect 'real' waiting times.

"The Liberal Democrats would tackle hidden waiting times for a diagnosis, so that NHS treatment for conditions like breast cancer can start more quickly."

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15 Feb 05 |  Coventry/Warwickshire

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