CAMPAIGN: Free breast cancer screening triumph

Most breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged 50 and over. The NHS Breast Screening Programme invites women aged 50-70 for a free screening every three years.

Campaign: Screening Saves Lives
Client: Breakthrough Breast Cancer
PR Team: In-house
Timescale: September 2006 - October 2007
Budget: £35,000

The NHS Breast Screening Programme is a vital service that can detect breast cancer very early. However, data published by the screening programme has shown variations across the country in the uptake in screening invitations. Another problem is women aged over 70 no longer receive automatic invites, and are unaware that they can continue to make their own appointments. Breakthrough Breast Cancer was also concerned with the widely held belief that the risk of developing breast cancer goes down after age 70. In fact, the risk continues to increase the older a woman gets. The number of women in England aged 50-70 is expected to increase by 20 per cent between 2005 and 2025.

To get the Government to review the current upper age limit for screening. To raise awareness of the NHS Breast Screening Programme among women aged 50 and over. To highlight the importance for women aged 70 and over to continue screening once automatic invitations cease. To encourage the Government to commit resources to cope with future increased screening demand in the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review.

Strategy and Plan
Breakthrough commissioned a survey of 2,200 women aged 50 and over. Results showed nearly all women over 70 did not attend screening and 97 per cent did not realise they are at risk. Breakthrough called for the self-referral system for women over 70 to be reviewed. A number of celebrities were recruited to help highlight the campaign including Edwina Currie - the health minister responsible for introducing national breast screening in 1988. Breakthrough also gained Parliamentary support for an early day motion (EDM) supporting Breakthrough's Screening Saves Lives campaign.

Measurement and Evaluation
The campaign achieved 178 pieces of media coverage with an AVE totalling £3.5m (source: Metrica). The campaign received a huge amount of interest across a wide range of media, including the BBC One O'Clock News, BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Sunday supplements and consumer magazines as well as broadcast coverage throughout the day of the launch.

Following the campaign, a number of primary care trusts reported a rise in the number of women requesting a breast screening appointment, and a follow-up survey carried out in 2007 showed an increase in awareness among woman that free screening continues after the age of 70, from 30 per cent in 2006 to 52 per cent in 2007. Breakthrough's Screening Saves Lives EDM achieved 217 signatures from supportive MPs and ministers.

At the Labour Party Conference in October 2007, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the Government's commitment to extend the upper age range of the NHS Breast Screening Programme to 73 years old.

Following the publication of the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review in October 2007, Breakthrough also received confirmation that the necessary resources to fund the promised extension of the NHS Breast Screening Programme would be put in place.


Ian Beaumont, director of press, PR and public affairs, Bowel Cancer UK

Breakthrough Breast Cancer's 'Screening Saves Lives' campaign played a vital role in raising awareness of the importance of breast screening and in encouraging women, especially those aged over 70 years old, to take part.

The results of the charity's survey of 2,200 women over 50 showed just how widespread the ignorance of the need for screening is, and gave the campaign a real sense of urgency and purpose.

The fact that 97 per cent of women over 70 didn't realise they were most at risk from the disease highlighted an issue that has had a negative effect on breast cancer awareness generally - namely the focus in the media and elsewhere on breast cancer as a younger woman's disease.

For the three active screening programmes - breast, bowel and cervical - it is important that all parties involved, including voluntary sector organisations, work together to maximise the number of eligible people who take part in screening and the number of lives saved as a result.

By engaging the support of celebrities, the media and MPs, Breakthrough ensured this campaign received significant publicity at a time when the Government was undertaking its Comprehensive Spending Review and putting the finishing touches to the Cancer Reform Strategy.

The campaign - and the activity of other breast cancer charities - appears to have had the desired effect, with the Government committing more funds, extending the upper age limit to 73 years old, introducing direct digital mammography, and the surveillance of women with high family risk of the disease.

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