Cork County Council has called for the age for breast cancer screening in Ireland to be lowered to 40.

Calls made to lower age for BreastCheck screening

“Having had a personal experience of being diagnosed before the age of 50, it really did highlight to me the need for the age to be lowered.”

The words of breast cancer survivor Susan McCarthy, a Fine Gael councillor representing East Cork who has backed a call to ask Government to lower the age for breast cancer screening in Ireland.

The current age bracket for screening within Ireland’s BreastCheck programme is 50-69. If you are not aged between 50 and 69, you are not eligible for breast screening in Ireland.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting of Cork County Council, Cllr McCarthy said she feels Ireland’s national breast screening programme, BreastCheck, should lower its age bracket to include women aged 40 and upwards.

“We need to broaden the net,” said Cllr McCarthy.

“I have a friend who was 42 when she was diagnosed – she was diagnosed in France and only for the fact that screening started over there at age 40, they wouldn’t have caught it, and even at that, she went through a horrific time,” added the councillor.

Cllr McCarthy’s comments came in support of a motion brought by Fianna Fáil Cllr Ann Marie Ahern. Ms Ahern asked that Cork County Council write to Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD, calling for the age for breast cancer screening in Ireland to be dropped to 40 in line with other countries such as Sweden and Iceland.

Cllr Ahern said: “In Ireland at the moment there is an estimated 3,450 female diagnosis’ and 30 male diagnosis’ every year.

She added that according to a recent report from National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI), lowering the age of breast cancer screening can improve breast cancer outcomes by a further 30%.

According to the NCRI report for 2023: “Early diagnosis improves cancer outcomes and reduces both the complexity of treatments that cancer patients undergo and the cost of those treatments.”

The report also highlighted that a previous report showed that cancers that are associated with a population screening programme have experienced an increase in the proportion of cancers that are detected early.

The report read: “This report reiterates the importance of early diagnosis with 5-year net survival above 90% for stage I and II breast and colorectal cancers and 95% and 80% for stage I and II cervical cancer, respectively.”

BreastCheck is the national breast screening programme. The aim of the programme is to detect breast cancer early and to provide treatment of breast cancer in women who show no symptoms.

Currently, in Ireland, the programme offers all women between the ages of 50 and 69 a mammogram (an x-ray of the breast) free of charge every 2 years.