Breast cancer scan error may have led to death of 270 women in England

The deaths of as many as 270 women in England are being investigated for connections to a computer error that led them to miss crucial breast cancer screenings.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Jeremy Hunt said Wednesday that some 450,000 women aged 68 to 71 didn't receive notice they were due for a breast cancer screening because of a major 2009 glitch, and that between 135 and 270 women who recently died of breast cancer could have missed the opportunity for early diagnosis.

Although the error occurred almost a decade ago, Public Health England only recently discovered it in January. An independent investigation has been initiated.

Letters reminding women to get a mammogram were supposed to automatically be sent out as part of the country's National Health Service AgeX trial. However, a computer error led to the tests being canceled and the reminders not being sent, according to The Guardian.

Hunt "wholeheartedly" apologized on Wednesday to the women affected and their families and said the supervision of the AgeX program had "not been good enough," BBC reported.

"For them and others it is incredibly upsetting to know that you did not receive an invitation for screening at the correct time and totally devastating to hear you may have lost or be about to lose a loved one because of administrative incompetence," Hunt said.

Those who have been affected will now receive a letter by the end of the month. Women younger than 72 years old will receive an appointment for a "catch-up mammogram," and women over 72 can call a hotline to discuss the pros and cons of breast cancer screening. Hunt assured women that anyone who wants a mammogram will be able to get one within six months.

"It is a major priority to do our very best to make sure that the additional scans do not cause any delays in the regular breast screening program for those under 71," Hunt said. "NHS England has taken major steps to expand the capacity of screening services."

The health systems in Northern Ireland and Wales operate on similar computers systems, but Hunt said there is no reason to believe women there have been affected. Additionally, he said women in Scotland are not affected because the country has a different information technology system.

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