Cancer Screening

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2019 National Retired Members Conference
11 June 2019

Breast and bowel cancers are two of the biggest cancer killers in the United Kingdom (UK). There are around 10,000 deaths from the former and 16,500 from the latter.

Across the different parts of the UK upper age limits for breast and bowel cancer screening are routinely set by the relevant health authorities. This motion will state that this is discriminatory against older people. It does not include cervical and/or prostate cancer. Cervical cancer affects older people to a relatively lesser degree, being most frequently diagnosed in the 35 to 44 year old age group. There is currently no screening programme in England, Wales or Scotland for prostate cancer.

Although there has, in recent years, been an increase in diagnosis of the diseases among people under 50, older people are disproportionately affected. The most recent figures show 80% of those diagnosed with breast cancer being over fifty years old and the similar figure for bowel cancer as 95%. In addition, in the case of bowel cancer, 59% of those diagnosed were 70 years old or over.

In Scotland breast cancer screening is offered to the age group 50 to 70 every three years. In England and Wales the age group is 50 to 71 with the same gap between screenings. Although a pilot is underway England with a view to increasing the coverage to 47 to 73 years.

In the case of bowel cancer Scotland screens the 50 to 74 age group every two years. In England and Wales the age group is 60 to 74 every 2 years, but the intention is to bring the latter into line with Scotland.

In both countries, when one reaches the top of the age range they can phone the screening centre and “opt in” to continue to participate in the programme.

Given that 74 years is no longer seen as an “old age” and the prevalence of breast and/or bowel cancer diagnosis in the over 70 age group, Conference believes that the “opt in” requirement after one reaches the top of the age ranges is discriminatory to older citizens.

Conference therefore instructs the National Retired Members’ Committee to campaign for National Health Services in England, Scotland and Wales to move from an “opt in” system when a user reaches the top end of the age range/s to one where citizens continue to receive the screening officer from the present bottom end of the age range until the end of their life unless they “opt out” of receiving the test. Conference also calls on the Labour Link representative to lobby that party in the three countries asking for its support for this policy change.