More X-ray specialists needed for breast cancer screening

Friday 11th November 2016
There is currently a shortage of X-ray specialists to assist with breast cancer screening, new figures show. Image: twilightproductions via iStock
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A significant increase in breast cancer radiologists is needed in the UK to ensure screening for the disease is being carried out at the highest possible standard.

As a result, radiographers with specialist X-ray skills may find themselves in higher demand by radiology departments to help prevent breast cancer screening waiting times from worsening further.

New figures from the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) released to coincide with the International Day of Radiology on November 8th show that a dramatic increase in radiologists is needed over the next few years, as 21 per cent of current specialists in this discipline are set to retire before 2020 and 35 per cent by 2035.

In addition, the RCR found that one-quarter of breast cancer screening programmes throughout Britain regularly operate with two or fewer X-ray specialists, with no cover available in the event of sickness or other absence.

Meanwhile, around eight per cent of radiologist positions across the UK are currently unfilled, with this figure having doubled since 2010, indicating that there are plenty of opportunities available for healthcare professionals with previous experience in this area or a similar discipline.

What's more, plans are being mooted to extend breast cancer screening to women aged between 47 and 73, rather than covering just the 50-70 age group that is currently entitled to regular mammograms. This would equate to an extra 2.2 million women receiving screening each year, meaning even more X-ray specialists would be required to cope with this rise in demand.

Dr Hilary Dobson OBE, chair of the British Society of Breast Radiology, commented: "The skill of breast radiologists in interpreting mammograms and other complex scans is vital to the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer, as well as in the delivery of cancer screening programmes.

"Without more radiologists to tackle this increasing demand, we cannot hope to achieve the best possible health outcomes for patients."

Written by Megan Smith

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