The Andalusian Regional Minister of Health and Consumer Affairs, Catalina García, announced on Tuesday the extension of breast cancer screening to five new age groups: 47, 48, 49, 70 and 71, as part of the Andalusian Government’s commitment to extend these tests from the age of 40 to 75.
In this way,” she said, “Andalusia is giving a substantial boost to one of the leading cancer prevention programmes. We have an obligation to make every effort to curb the incidence of this disease,” he said during the presentation in Seville of the Spanish Association Against Cancer’s campaign against breast cancer, on the occasion of World Breast Cancer Day tomorrow, 19 October.
The Breast Cancer Early Detection Programme consists of carrying out mammograms every two years on the entire female population between the ages of 50 and 69 living in Andalusia. In this sense, with the incorporation of these new age groups, which will be carried out during the second quarter of 2023, the target population will be between 47 and 71 years of age.
These five new age groups comprise a population of 301,300 women, who will be able to access these tests free of charge. This expansion will require an investment of 11 million euros a year, including mammograms in health centres and mobile units. “It is a challenge, but we believe it is necessary and vital, and we will be prepared for it”. Catalina García pointed out that the Andalusian government’s objective is to continue to expand these groups during the legislature until it reaches the population between the ages of 40 and 75.
“Today, tomorrow, every day, we must remind the population of the importance of prevention, the tireless fight against the disease and, fundamentally, of supporting research to find a definitive cure for cancer,” she said.
In this regard, the Regional Minister of Health and Consumer Affairs stressed that every year in Andalusia around 4,900 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed, 450 of them in the province of Almeria, the most frequent tumour in women in all Western countries. In this line, early detection through mammograms makes it possible to improve the prognosis of the disease and to apply less aggressive treatments to affected women, thanks to a comprehensive and individualised approach by the professional teams that treat this disease.
Specifically, currently more than 70% of women who undergo surgery to remove the tumour have been able to keep their breast, whereas when the Early Detection Programme began, conservative surgery was only performed in 20% of cases.
In this regard, she reported that in 2021 almost 333,000 Andalusian women participated in this programme, which has enabled 680 cancers to be detected at an early stage of the disease. The participation rate is close to 76% of the total number of women mentioned. In the province of Almeria, a total of 30,832 women were screened, which made it possible to detect 34 cases at an early stage.
Through the Early Detection Programme, women are summoned by means of a letter sent to their homes to go to a specific mammography screening unit where two mammograms per breast are taken. Of the 30,832 women who participated last year, around 6,905 were referred to their referral hospital to complete the diagnostic study.
“Look at how important this is. That is why I ask all women in Andalusia: if you receive the letter to go for a mammogram, go. Don’t think about it, don’t throw the letter away or leave it forgotten in a drawer. This letter could save their lives,” she added.
Cancer Strategy in Andalusia
Catalina García also stressed that the Andalusian Cancer Strategy is a clear commitment to improving the cancer situation in the region. This Strategy advocates a comprehensive approach to the disease which, among other aspects, provides for priority attention to early detection and the reduction of waiting times for the results of diagnostic procedures.
Alongside prevention, the promotion of healthy lifestyles, a commitment to improving vaccination and improving screening programmes, there is a clear approach to improving the connection between primary and hospital care, building an active culture of training professionals, research to combat the disease and its repercussions, and the incorporation of technologies with sustainability criteria to improve the health of the population, and to ensure that any warning signs described receive the care they require at all times.
Cutting-edge research and technology
In this regard, Catalina García praised the Andalusian government’s commitment to health research and cutting-edge technology incorporated into the autonomous region’s Public Health System.
In this regard, she assured that between 2019 and 2021, 1,893 new clinical studies have been launched within the Andalusian public health system in the areas of oncology, haematology and neurology, among others, with a turnover of 73.7 million euros. Oncology research stands out, with three out of every ten studies currently being carried out dealing with this health problem.
“Medical Oncology is an area that concerns and occupies us. And I would like to stress that today, and before, because there has never been any delay in dealing with this disease, patient care is rapid and, fortunately, in most cases accurate. We know the risk involved in this disease, which is why we give absolute priority to these patients”.
In relation to this, he highlighted the incorporation of state-of-the-art equipment throughout Andalusia for the detection and treatment of cancer patients. In total, almost 25 million euros have been invested in 15 pieces of equipment. “Technological renovation that allows the incorporation of cutting-edge equipment with image-guided radiotherapy capacity, including two units with ultrasound guidance and intensity modulation,” he concluded.