NHS failure to provide breast cancer screening for high- risk women following radiotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma

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NHS failure to provide breast cancer screening for high- risk women following radiotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma

Last month, the NHS notified nearly 1,500 women at very high risk of breast cancer that there had been a failure to arrange the annual screening checks that they should have been offered over the past 20 years.

An urgent catch-up screening programme is being offered to 1,487 women who are known to be at very high risk of breast cancer due to previous radiotherapy treatment to their chest for Hodgkin lymphoma when aged 10-35 years old between 1962-2003 (London Evening Standard).

The NHS say the plan is to invite these women for an urgent MRI scan and possibly a mammogram and letters have been sent to all affected women apologising for the error.

In 2000, research showed that women who had undergone radiotherapy to their chest for Hodgkin lymphoma were at very high risk of developing breast cancer. In 2003, the Chief Medical Officer issued guidance to NHS trusts recommending that these women be invited for annual screening checks to be undertaken 8-15 years following radiotherapy treatment.

After realising that some of the women in this very high risk group had not been invited for the required annual checks, NHS England wrote to the affected women on 4th March 2024 to inform them of the error and their eligibility to attend the urgent catch-up programme.

The impact of the failure to invite these high risk women for screening is not yet known. However, the consequences are potentially huge. As medical negligence solicitors, we deal with cases involving delays in diagnosis of breast cancer so we understand how crucial early diagnosis and treatment of this disease is. It is well known that survival rates for breast cancer are usually much higher when it is detected and treated at an early stage. Delayed diagnosis often also means more aggressive treatments are needed which can lead to debilitating side effects and long-term health issues.

Given that this screening failure spans more than two decades, it is entirely feasible that some of these women have already developed breast cancer which was diagnosed at a later stage than it would have been with appropriate screening. Some women may have undergone more extensive treatment than would otherwise have been required, their life expectancy may have been reduced or they may already have died from the disease.

What to do if you believe you or a family member has been affected

At JMW Solicitors we understand any cancer diagnosis is devastating but it is often made far worse if it becomes apparent medical mistakes have been made either in your treatment or that of a loved one.

We are happy to provide free initial advice on the circumstances of each individual case and let you know if we think legal action is appropriate. If we accept instructions, we can usually offer a ‘No Win No Fee Agreement’ so there will be no financial risk to those who wish to pursue a claim.

Get in touch with our team today to see how we may be able to help.

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