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UK admits ‘serious’ cancer screening failure for 450,000 women

An estimated 450,000 women in England failed to receive a breast cancer screening invitation due to a "a computer algorithm failure"
AFP

London (AFP) – Britain on Wednesday admitted that a “serious failure” in its breast cancer screening programme over nearly a decade led to 450,000 women missing out on invitations to their final tests — and may have shortened the lives of up to 270 of them.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt apologised to parliament for the failure, blaming it on “a computer algorithm failure”.

Women in England between the ages of 50 and 70 are automatically invited for breast cancer screening every three years by the state-run National Health Service.

But between 2009 and the start of 2018, an estimated 450,000 women did not receive their final invitation, which should have been sent between their 68th and 71st birthdays. 

Hunt ordered an independent review to establish the clinical impact, but said that it was “not clear whether any delay in diagnosis resulted in harm or death”.

However, he added that “there may be between 135 and 270 women who had their lives shortened as a result”.

Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said: “It’s very concerning to learn that so many women have not received an invitation to screening over a prolonged period of time.”

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