A London Assembly investigation warned thousands of lives were at risk because women were not attending mammogram appointments. More than a third of women in London, that is 38%, are ignoring NHS breast cancer screening.
The report found that 246,951 women in London were invited for breast cancer screening in 2005/06. But 94,517 women did not turn up. At the national level only three quarters of the women invited reported for screening.
Some women have not taken up free screening because they are frightened they may find out they have breast cancer. Others have reported that they had a bad experience at a previous appointment and did not come back.
The report shows huge differences in the number of women screened between boroughs. Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster and Tower Hamlets had the lowest numbers of takers for breast screening while Havering and Bexley had the highest. The investigation also found that a third of London NHS trusts were failing to meet treatment targets.
Tower Hamlets Primary Care trust warns that one-in-nine women develop breast cancer. One- in two-women in London ignore breast cancer checks.
The NHS program offers screening to women aged 50 to 70 every three years. From April the lower age limit will fall to 47. The scheme is estimated to save 1,400 lives every year in England.
The Assembly report, entitled Behind The Screen, has called for fresh measures to increase the number of women taking the screening. These include a campaign to promote screening among certain risk groups.
Kay Elbert, commissioner for the Breast Screening Service in central and East London, said: "The number of women coming for screenings is abominably low." According to him, a very mobile population in that area made it difficult to keep GP lists up to date.
"Language is also barrier as well as older women who come from Bangladesh where there's no culture to do this early prevention work," Kay Elbert said.
Health officials are trying particularly to reach women in the East End's Bangladeshi community who are among those reluctant to take up the offer.
According to Joanne McCarthy, chairwoman of the Assembly's health and public services committee, "More lives could be saved if more women were screened. Early diagnosis is crucial to survival."
The report also showed that while breast cancer patients should be starting radiotherapy within four weeks of surgery, many were waiting longer because of a lack of radiotherapy services.
Health officials are getting ready to launch a pilot project next month where women in Tower Hamlets will be the first in the country to be invited by their GPs for a blood pressure check, cervical cancer test and breast screening.
The poster being distributed this week features mother-of-four Dymphna Dale, a 52-year-old from the Isle of Dogs, who said: "Some women are anxious about screening, so they ignore the invitation.
"But they are better off having the screening and having a peace of mind because a high percentage of women get the all clear."