CHANGING how women are called for breast screening could save lives and reverse a steady decline in patients showing up for appointments, an MSP has said.

Christina McKelvie, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and recently received the all-clear, is hoping the system will be transformed in future following a major review of Scotland’s breast screening programme.

As things stand, women between 50 and 70 are invited for a mammogram based on their GP service.

But because practices only take part in the programme every three years, it means some women are not getting a call for their first scan until they are 53.

Christina McKelvie is calling for a change to the age threshold for breast screening

McKelvie received her call at exactly that age and, while her tumour was still small and treatable when it was caught, she has since reflected on how things could have been very different.

One of the 17 published recommendations from the review is for individual women to be called around their 50th birthday by the NHS directly, rather than through their GP.

This would ensure not only that women are being checked out for abnormalities at the optimum age, but that women who move GP services are not missing out on their appointment.

When the SNP manifesto was being written last year, McKelvie suggested the age threshold for breast screening be looked at.

And she said she hopes that, if the Government decides to adopt this fresh system, it will lead to more women being brought into the programme.

She said: “During my treatment I was seeing women around about 51 or 52 who had either caught lumps and went to the GP or who had been called, and it did bother me that maybe 53 was a long time to wait.

“That’s why I thought let’s look at the age threshold for this. Because I didn’t think it was beyond the wit of man that if they can send you a bowel screening test on your 50th birthday that they can also call you for a screening appointment too.

“What surgeons told me was anything lower than 45 would be a real problem because breast tissue is dense so it’s harder to detect cancers, so around 50 was ideal. The only issue was the way in which people were called.

“I would hope the Cabinet Secretary would accept that recommendation and change the system and that just brings more women in at the optimum stage.

“A centralised system will be really important and the benefit of that is how we can then use the data. After a couple of years we’ll be able to analyse the data and really hone in on the areas where there is least uptake.”

The review found there has been a steady decline in overall uptake of breast screening which, if continued, would threaten the effectiveness of the programme.

Average performance on overall uptake over the last 10 years stands at 72%, just above the minimum standard established, and women from deprived areas are less likely to attend than those in more affluent districts.

McKelvie says a call-recall system overhaul will go some way to helping turn this around but she has also called for mobile screening units – of which there are currently 20 alongside six static centres – to target areas of low uptake and urged further efforts to dissolve misconceptions.

She added: “I think if one of the biggest issues is about making contact with women in specific areas then maybe a more targeted approach to where the mobile units go would work.

“I think there’s also a wee bit of a fallacy around breast screening. People think it's awkward and sore. Everywhere I go now I say it’s new machines they’ve got now, it’s uncomfortable for seconds but it can save your life and it did for me.

“We need to think about doing a bit more of that.”