A CANCER survivor whose parents and nearly all five siblings have also been struck by the disease said she was shocked to discover that over-70s can no longer refer themselves for screening due to Covid.

Anne Boyd, 75, was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in 1997 thanks to a routine mammogram and went on to make a full recovery following a lumpectomy and radiotherapy.

The former restaurant owner, from Furnace in Argyll, credits screening for saving her life and continued to refer herself for mammograms as a precaution after turning 70.

Her last was three years ago.

Routine breast screening is offered every three years on NHS Scotland to women aged 50 to 70, but prior to the pandemic women over 70 were also able to self-refer.

However, this option was paused due to Covid and did not restart when regular screening resumed last year.

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Mrs Boyd said the first she knew of the change was when she was turned down for an appointment at the mobile scanning unit ahead of its visit to Inveraray, 10 minutes from her home.

"I think it's ludicrous," she said.

"They're more or less saying to me 'if you find something, go to your doctor', by which time it might be too late.

"I wouldn't have known I had breast cancer [in 1997] unless I had gone to the van. There were no symptoms. I had no lump that I could feel.

"And my friend - she's 78 - very recently had breast cancer. She had a mastectomy and she said if it hadn't been for the van it wouldn't have been picked up."


Mrs Boyd, who is one of six children, said she is particularly worried due to her family history of the disease.

Her late mother and older sister were both diagnosed with breast cancer, her father died of lung cancer, and another three siblings - a sister and both her brothers - also died from cancer.

Her GP is now trying to arrange an appointment at a breast screening clinic instead.

"I might have to go to Campbeltown which is 70 miles away, but wherever it is I'll go. I would go to Glasgow to get it done.

"People who phone up for an appointment, take the appointment.

"The last time I was at the van in Inveraray three years ago, several people in the routine group hadn't turned up.

"So there's all these appointments going to waste and here's me desperate to get an appointment."

The Scottish Government said the pause in self-referrals was "temporary", and that the risks and benefits of screening over-70s was not "fully established".

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Eligibility for cancer screening is based on advice from the UK National Screening Committee, who evaluate cost-effectiveness as well as the balance of good to harm - such as the risk of unnecessary treatment.

A spokesman for Cancer Research UK said the evidence for breast screening women over 70 "is mixed in terms of its effectiveness, even for those women who have family history [or] who are at higher risk because of their genes".


However, the current suspension of self-referrals has also coincided with a slump in overall cancer diagnoses during the pandemic, leading to fears that thousands of cases have been missed.

Nearly 4000 fewer people than normal started treatment between April and December 2020.

Gordon McLean, of Macmillan Cancer Support Scotland, said the charity is "very concerned" that many people in Scotland are living with undetected cancer.

He added: "The later someone is diagnosed, the more challenging it is to treat their illness and for those who suspect something is wrong, the more stress they face.

"While we know the pandemic has placed considerable strain on the NHS, it's vital all cancer screenings and checks get back up and running urgently."

HeraldScotland: Cancer diagnoses declined significantly during 2020, compared to levels in 2019 (Public Health Scotland)Cancer diagnoses declined significantly during 2020, compared to levels in 2019 (Public Health Scotland)

Scottish Labour’s health and Covid recovery spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said: “Not restarting self-referrals for the over 70s and the SNP’s failure to meet the 36-month frequency target mean women are missing out on this vital care.

“This will only add to the growing cancer care crisis we are facing."

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A spokesman for the Scottish Government said it is investing up to £114.5 million over the next two years in its cancer recovery plan.

He added: “The impacts of Covid-19, including the need for physical distancing and increased infection control measures, continue to pose challenges to capacity.

"As the risks and benefits of screening for people over 70 are not fully established, the option for participants over the age of 70 to self-refer has been paused to allow the service to prioritise those who require to be offered appointments and for whom screening has clear benefits.

“This is a temporary measure that is being regularly reviewed and will be lifted as soon as possible.

"In the meantime, we are working closely with health boards to monitor and address the capacity challenges Covid-19 has created.

“Work is also underway across the UK to review the benefits of screening people over 71, and the issue of self-referrals for those aged over 70 is being considered in the review of the Scottish breast screening programme.

"The current age range is based on evidence about the risks and benefits of screening people at different ages.”