BreastCheck programme – Seanad Speech

Check against delivery

Speech by Leo Varadkar T.D., Minister for Health, on the Adjournment of the Seanad.  I welcome the opportunity today to speak about the proposed age extension of the BreastCheck programme to include women aged from 65 to 69 years.

Breast Screening

BreastCheck, the National Breast Screening Programme, currently offers a free mammogram every two years to women aged 50 to 64.

BreastCheck is now in its fifteenth year of screening and has provided 964,000 mammograms to 409,000 women.

Approximately 6,350 cancers have been detected through this programme.

The Programme for Government contained the commitment to extend BreastCheck to 65-69 year old women, in line with EU Guidelines. I can confirm that I intend to extend the upper age range for Breast Check to include the 65 to 69 age group as soon as possible in line with available resources.

A priority of the BreastCheck Programme at present is to maximise national uptake in the 50-64 year age group. As outlined in the recently published 2012/2013 BreastCheck Report, 71.4% of eligible women invited for screening accepted their invitation. The programme target of 70%.

However, acceptance rates for those invited for the first time have fallen to 66.4% and this is a matter of some concern.

In the light of these figures I welcome the current BreastCheck advertising campaign which aims to boost uptake rates and urges all women to take the time to do something very important for themselves by availing of invitations to have mammograms. At a minimum, this will give some peace of mind, but it might just be crucial in identifying cancers at an early, and more easily treatable, stage.

National Screening Service

The HSE’s National Screening Service operates three other population based screening programmes in addition to BreastCheck.

  • CervicalCheck, the National Cervical Screening Programme provides free smear tests to women aged 25-60.
  • BowelScreen, the National Bowel Screening Programme, commenced nationwide in late 2012 for men and women aged 60 to 69 years initially. An additional €2m was provided for the continued development of BowelScreen in the HSE’s National Service Plan 2014.
  • Diabetic RetinaScreen commenced in February 2013 and will be offered to people with diagnosed diabetes, aged 12 and over, registered with the programme. An additional €4.5m has been allocated for the continued implementation of Diabetic RetinaScreen in the HSE’s National Service Plan 2014.

Breast Cancer Treatment

Breast screening is one element of our comprehensive cancer control programme. As part of their work across the full range of cancers, the HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme provides symptomatic breast clinics in each of the eight cancer centres, with a further satellite clinic in Letterkenny.

Breast cancer survival in Ireland has improved significantly in recent years due to a combined approach of screening, symptomatic detection and improved treatment. Five-year survival for breast cancer is now estimated at 84.9% for people diagnosed between 2005 and 2009. This is a most encouraging figure and it shows a significant improvement from 75.1% for people diagnosed between 1994 and 1999. I welcome the progress being made, not just to the benefit of the people directly concerned, but also to their families, loved ones and wider communities.


In conclusion, while BreastCheck is aimed at the age groups most at risk, I stress that breast cancer services are available for all women. Those of any age who have concerns about breast cancer should seek the advice of their GP who will, if appropriate, refer them to the symptomatic breast services in a designated specialist cancer centre.