Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the UK today. It claims the lives of 12,300 women every single year, 1,300 of these cases will be in women under the age of fifty, with 44,000 women diagnosed every year in this country. That's over one hundred women a day that will receive the dreaded diagnosis. Many of them will have life insurance and will be able to claim on their critical illness cover but this will only scratch the surface of what they will need to cope with what's ahead.
The incidence of breast cancer has increased dramatically over the last twenty years - up by fifty per cent. However, survival rates have also increased in line with this and there is no doubt that the NHS screening programme has had a lot to do with this. Eight out of ten of the cancers diagnosed by screening were found in women over the age of fifty, which is why screening is a regular thing for women over this age.
Early diagnosis is essential in surviving this disease and we are now at the stage where eight out of ten breast cancer sufferers will survive longer than five years. The NHS screening programme picks up 14,000 cases per year, saving 1,400 lives during that time. For those diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer, nine out of ten of those will survive beyond five years whereas if diagnosis does not take place until the cancer has reached Stage 4, survival drops to one in ten. So, we can see, the early diagnosis is very important.
Current screening programmes are limited to those over the age of fifty but health officials are looking at ways of lowering that. The more diseases that can be detected and successfully treated at the early stages, the more people will be enjoying long, healthy lives and the less harsh the life insurance premiums will be for us all.
It is hoped that screening for breast cancer will soon be introduced for all women over the age of thirty. This will take the form of genetic testing to determine their risk of developing the disease. The higher the risk, the more chance that these women will be offered regular scans and x rays to pick up the first signs of breast cancer and we will see survival rates increasing all the time.
Information has been released that says the technology to offer this service is now readily available but once again the possibility of it happening comes down to costs with health chiefs currently weighing up whether or not it is feasible. It seems harsh from the public's point of view that they may not be able to receive this life saving early diagnosis because of money.
However, money could be saved by also genetically testing women over fifty and if there risk was very low there would be no point in scanning them every three years, thus saving resources in this department. Current tests are only available to women whose families have a high incidence of breast cancer already.
If the suggested screening goes ahead, it will mean that women who are found to have an increased risk will then go on to have annual checks from the age of forty onwards. Although this is a good thing, would it not feel like waiting for the inevitable? There are women and doctors both sides of the fence who are all for early diagnosis and I'm quite sure the life insurance companies will be all up for it too. Let's hope the health of our nation comes before the purse strings.
Health expert Catherine Harvey looks at the implications for life insurance if cancers are diagnosed earlier.