Danish breast cancer screening scandal escalates

2019 05 24 21 11 2720 Denmark Flag Button 400

Thousands of women in Denmark younger than age 50 who have family risk factors for breast cancer or have had previous surgery may not have received screening exams they should have had, according to an article in the Jyllands-Posten (JP) newspaper.

Previous reports of inadequate breast cancer screening in the country were limited to Ringsted Hospital in the Zealand administrative region, but now it has emerged that up to 2,000 women in Jutland and Funen may not have received the screening invitations they should have had, noted the report in JP, which is based in Viby, a suburb of Ă…rhus.

University hospitals in Ă…rhus and Odense may have failed to follow national breast cancer screening guidelines, bringing two more healthcare regions -- Central Jutland and South Denmark -- under scrutiny over the issue.

At Ă…rhus University Hospital, women younger than age 50 with a history of surgical treatment for breast cancer and women with family risk factors for the condition are thought to be included in the inadequate screening. While at Odense University Hospital, 299 women younger than 50 who have family risk factors for breast cancer were, during a four-year period, examined using x-ray alone, according to the story.

The choice of exam was made for "resource-related reasons," stated records taken at a meeting of the Danish Radiological Mammary Diagnostics Society (Dansk Forening for Radiologisk Mammadiagnostik) in 2017. Representatives from the Central Jutland and South Denmark regional health boards were present, the report noted.

The Danish Patient Safety Authority (Styrelsen for Patientsikkerhed) has found that 1,049 women who reported pain in their breast were also given examinations that failed to comply with guidelines. National guidelines require regular examination using both mammography and ultrasound, along with a physical examination by a doctor, but in 2016 and 2017, and possibly dating back to 2011, several hundred women were offered solely mammography, the newspaper reported.

Odense University Hospital has received a referral from the authority and will recall women affected by the issue for new and complete examinations. The hospital has confirmed that the 299 women who have family risk factors for breast cancer will be offered full clinical mammography at their next annual checkup, JP added. Of the total of 911 women who reported breast pain, a selected group will be recalled for mammography.

A statement from the Odense facility has stressed that patients with clear, potential indicators of cancer were given "further investigations" in the form of clinical mammography.

Danish Minister of Health Ellen Trane Nørby told JP that the situation represents a "failure" on behalf of health services, and it is "unacceptable that the regions are not giving women the treatment to which they are entitled."

The Danish Cancer Society (Kræftens Bekæmpelse) also has criticized the health authorities. "An inquiry should be conducted into this. We now have a well-documented situation in Ringsted and apparently also situations in other regions where there have been problems," society CEO Jesper Fisker told the Ritzau news agency.

State authorities should look into whether guidelines were followed in all locations. "This is a matter of restoring confidence in the health service in this area," he added.

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