Cancer Screening (Education) Bill

Part of Clause 9 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1975.

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Photo of Dr Gerard Vaughan Dr Gerard Vaughan , Reading South 12:00 am, 9th May 1975

As so often, my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth is slightly ahead of us. The importance of the Bill and of the awareness it urges is that nine out of 10 cases, or 90 per cent., of cancers of the breast can be detected by the women themselves if they know the risks and what they should be looking for. There are a number of books on the subject which are not well known. They are expensive and difficult to get hold of, but they tell women simple ways of examining themselves. Every woman should know of the existence of these books and should have access to them.

We have already heard a little about the costs of medical screening, which is a far more elaborate process. It is expensive, but even so the benefit that we have had in recent years from screening has been increased. A falling rate, for example, of cancer of the cervix and the uterus, is probably directly due to the medical screening services, which are now better than ever.

For example, BUPA's medical centre—which provides only one form of medical screening—is providing in the private sector a form of regular screening. It is perhaps ironic, when we were discussing what, in the view of many, are the disadvantages of the private medical service this week, that this service is providing a pioneering activity in an area which needs more national attention. The centre has screened about 13,000 women. Of every 1,000 women screened it has picked out 7·5 cases of breast cancer and 3·2 cases of cancer of the cervix. It does this at a cost which is by no means prohibitive.

In these two significant areas where preventive medicine and greater understanding can actually save lives we have a situation in which 90 per cent. of women could detect breast cancer before it was too late if only they knew what to look for. The hon. Member for Bootle mentioned the age of 30. My advice is that every woman over the age of 20 should examine her breasts once a month. It is a very simple thing to do. In that way she is likely to detect the earliest stages of this illness. Nationally, we should provide full medical screening for every woman over the age of 50.

I have spent some time talking about those two medical aspects because from the medical point of view they seem so significant. A number of books have been produced by the BMA. One of them is about what to look for in cases of cancer. The Royal Marsden Hospital has produced a very good pamphlet on cancer of the breast.

I revert to the purpose of the Bill. There is one area about which I am slightly unsure. In the list of places where the local authorities should be required to provide educational facilities, schools are mentioned as being very important. I wonder whether we want to bring more of this kind of topic into our schools. I suggest to the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) that children are not likely to be very concerned about an illness which is, as they see it, far into later life. Some anxious children might be made more anxious and others might be confused or simply regard it as irrelevant. While I welcome other suggestions for increasing educational facilities, I would put a big question mark beside the teaching of cancer risks within the classroom.