NHS Shetland refutes claims over cancer screening

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NHS Shetland has refuted the assertion from MSP Mary Scanlon that Shetlanders are at a disadvantage when it comes to cancer screening.

Ms Scanlon said that as the breast screening unit only visits every three years, early cancers could be missed. She pointed out that only 27.9 per cent of breast cancers were picked up at “stage one”, the earliest detectable point – the lowest figure in Scotland.

However NHS Shetland consultant in public health medicine Susan Laidlaw said breast screening only needs to be carried out every three years.

She stressed the importance of early detection and urged people to see their GP if they have any symptoms they are concerned about. This applies to all cancers, including lung cancer, for which there is no screening programme.

Dr Laidlaw said: “In Shetland we have high uptake rates for breast and bowel cancer screening programmes. For breast screening, we have the highest rates along with Orkney (the most recent published figures show 86 per cent for Shetland and 73.5 per cent for Scotland overall).

“Uptake figures are averaged out over a three-year period so they can be compared with the rest of Scotland. The Detect Cancer Early figures are for two-year periods, and so breast screening is included in some but not all the sets of figures.

“Women only need to have breast screening every three years, and so women in Shetland are not disadvantaged by the mobile breast screening unit only coming up every three years. The unit stays in Shetland for several months and so there is plenty of opportunity for women to attend, and they do.”

Similarly, she said, bowel cancer screening was introduced for men and women aged 50-74 in 2009, and uptake had increased each year and have consistently been the highest in Scotland – 64.5 per cent for Shetland and 54.9 per cent for Scotland overall.

“With bowel cancer, it is possible that a number of early cancers were picked up in the first few years of screening, and so the ones that are diagnosed now tend to be more advanced, probably among people who have not been screened.”

Dr Laidlaw pointed out that percentages Ms Scanlon referred to may seem high because of small numbers – two people being diagnosed one year, for instance, could equate to a 15 per cent difference over a previous year.

She also said that Shetland fares well in the very small number of cases where the stage is “not known” compared to the rest of Scotland  – 3.3 per cent in Shetland, 6.4 per cent in Scotland overall.

She stressed the need for people to be alert to symptoms, and added: “High screening rates do not mean we can be complacent. Screening cannot pick up all bowel and breast cancers there is no screening for lung cancer. No-one should wait until they get invited for screening if they are worried.

“We are currently reviewing our cancer pathways to help with earlier diagnoses and encourage people to present earlier with symptoms.”

About Rosalind Griffiths

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