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Breast screening programme publishes new interval cancer guidance

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The NHS Breast Screening Programme has produced new guidance on the reporting, classification and monitoring of interval cancers. These are cancers diagnosed after a screening appointment at which a woman received a normal result and before her next scheduled screening appointment.

The guidance contains important new information, including:

  • revised definitions for categorising interval cancers
  • how to measure and monitor interval cancers
  • review of cancers detected following previous assessment
  • more detailed explanation of how duty of candour and disclosure of audit works in the breast screening programme to support existing guidance
Healthcare professional examining a mammogram
Examining a mammogram for signs of breast cancer

Breast screening saves around 1,300 lives every year by detecting cancer at an early stage when treatment is more successful.  Our dedicated staff who read breast x-rays (mammograms) are highly trained professionals who read thousands of images each year. We monitor their performance to ensure cancer detection is maximised.

However, no screening programme is 100% accurate. Sometimes cancers are not seen on mammography and others may grow in the time between screening appointments. Occasionally they are missed by the film reader. We also stress that it is always important for women to check their breasts and see their GP if they notice any changes.

We regularly monitor interval cancers to make sure services maximise cancer detection. This allows us to:

  • compare services with each other and with national performance
  • improve the quality of the service provided to women by regularly offering support, feedback and education to individuals reading mammograms
  • give women information if they have an interval cancer and want to know if their abnormality was present on their previous films

The new guidance will be supported by a revised interval cancer manual. This will give in-depth information to screening services and the screening quality assurance services around interval cancer administration. This will be published later in the year.

We will also publish a toolkit to support screening and symptomatic services with the practical application of duty of candour and disclosure of audit. This will include sample information for women and clinicians as well as links to training tools.

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