Intended for healthcare professionals


Ireland announces national breast screening programme

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 17 April 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1025
  1. Doug Payne
  1. Dublin

    Ireland has become the fourth country in Europe to introduce a national breast screening programme, after the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Sweden. The first phase of the recently announced scheme-which will offer free mammograms to women in the 50-64 age group- will start in October.

    The scheme is being funded by the Department of Health. Initial capital funding of IR£2m ($2.8m) has been provided for the development of two central units linked to the Mater and St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, and two mobile units will travel to places outside the capital. Women will be screened every two years, instead of three years as in Britain. Each mammogram will be independently reviewed by two radiologists. In an effort to avoid some of the delays experienced by women in the United Kingdom in getting treatment, a number of “standby” hospital beds have been designated for the immediate use of women who go through the screening programme. Ten consultants have already been recruited to staff the programme.

    Phase I of the programme will screen 120000 women-50%of the eligible female population of the country. A register of eligible women (initially those in the eastern and central area of Ireland) has been drawn up to allow for them to be contacted by post. Project staff reported that they have covered most of the target group, but some women will have to register themselves for screening. The task of ensuring these women are informed of the scheme is likely to fall on GPs.

    Ireland has the fourth highest incidence of breast cancer after Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands, among 25 countries studied recently by the World Health Organisation. A total of 650 women die from breast cancer every year in Ireland, while 1400 new cases are diagnosed annually. Dr Sheelagh Ryan, chairwoman of the steering committee for the project, said: “By delivering a world class programme we know we can reduce the mortality in women screened by at least 20%within the decade.”

    Dr Jane Buttimer, the project director, commented that it will be essential that there is a high uptake of the free screening and that at least 70%of women targeted need to come forward in order to make an impact on the death rate. She also added that there would be continuous independent evaluation of the programme.

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    Mammograms every 2 years will be introduced for women aged 50-64

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