CEO of medical provider Westhouse Medical, Jack Kaye, explains why mammograms aren't enough in the fight against breast cancer.
There has been much debate in the news recently regarding the below average UK cancer survival rates, coupled with breast cancer screening concerns. Here in the UK, British women have to wait on average five months from testing before they are given a complete diagnosis.
The NHS breast-cancer screening programme, which allows all women from the age of 50 to have three-yearly mammograms, has been said by some doctors and researchers to ‘do more harm than good’. One in eight women will at some point in her life develop the disease - which is being diagnosed 5,000 more times a year than a decade ago.
Unfortunately this is the reality of the situation and it helps no-one to lay blame. The question is – what can be done? Statistically, the best way to improve breast cancer survival rates is to have a national scanning policy which allows early detection for better survival.
It is evident that breast screening saves lives; however, affordability seems to be the issue. Mammograms, which forms the key component of the UK’s breast cancer screening programme is expensive, costing an average of £53.62 each. There are currently 2.3 million scans performed each year, which is expected to rise to 3 million between the years 2013-2014, due to the aging population and shift in demographics. This in turn raises concern for the NHS, as the cost for screening will rise to £160m per year as opposed to the current £120m. If scanning is done more frequently and covers a wider footprint, then this number will significantly increase – as will the cost.
Current technology available for breast cancer screening is expensive, and at a time when healthcare budgets are increasingly tightened, more affordable options need to be explored.
Breast screening should be deliberately non specific – aiming to indicate a wide range of pathologies, which mammograms unfortunately do not. That way, should a pathology be identified, it can be investigated with more specific diagnostic test. This would result in a layered system of diagnostics that would identify the specific pathology involved and so allow more efficient targeting of treatments - reducing the potential harmful and costly effects of unnecessary procedures.
Westhouse Medical is currently developing a primary breast scan which responds to a large variety of pathologies due to temperature sensitivities within the tissue. Nationwide adoption of this breast scan will reduce the number of mammograms necessary by more than 80%, making screening easier for the individual and the medical practitioner. The effective saving to the current NHS budget would be over £100m a year.
Developments of breast cancer screening technologies are crucial to reducing the NHS spend as well as help woman detect abnormalities easier and quicker. As populations increase and demographics change, breast cancer screening needs to move beyond first generation measures such as mammograms – which is why we welcome the national review of the current breast cancer screening programme. Medical devices that allow women to test at home or at the GP’s will be the next step in revolutionary screening.