Mr Johnson knows from his extensive experience – both at the Spire Regency Hospital in Macclesfield and at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester – that catching signs early not only increases the chances the cancer will be cured, but can also reduce the need for more invasive treatment.
“Women need to view screening as a very positive thing, because of the power it gives to detect cancer early,” Mr Johnson said.
“Unfortunately we can’t say that everyone who undergoes screening will survive cancer, but what we do know is that there is a much better chance of curing the disease the earlier it is caught, rather than waiting for it to develop to a more advanced stage."
“Catching cancer early, when the tumour is smaller, can reduce the need for chemotherapy. And screening also gives surgeons like me the opportunity to intervene earlier with a less invasive procedure – removing only the cancerous tumour and some surrounding healthy tissue (a lumpectomy) , rather than a patient having to undergo a mastectomy, which is a physical as well as an emotional ordeal to go through.”
Mr Johnson admitted that as imaging technology becomes more sophisticated, more biopsies are being performed.
But a European-wide review into the benefits and shortfalls of screening - published last month in the Journal of Medical Screening - found it saves the lives of two women for every one patient who receives unnecessary treatment.
The report concluded that for every 1,000 women screened, between seven and nine lives were saved and four cases were over-diagnosed.
Mr Johnson said: “This is one of the downsides to being sophisticated – because we are picking up things today that previously could have been overlooked."
“But looking at it from the other side, we are also saving more lives than ever before.”
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month the surgeon - who is part of a team of experts from the Spire Regency Breast Clinic, which is specialises in mammography and breast reconstruction - stressed the importance of women regularly checking their breasts and seeking advice if they find anything abnormal.
But he also urged all women currently invited for screening - NHS guidelines offer it every three years to women aged 50 and over, while a pilot at University Hospital of South Manchester extends this to those aged 47 to 73 – to take advantage.
“There can be lumps which you cannot feel, which would be picked up on a mammogram,” he said. “It is a very straight-forward procedure and although there might be mild discomfort – because in order to get the best image we have to squeeze the breast – it is worth it.
“Please don’t ignore the letter. It’s terrible meeting women who have not attended for screening and have then found a lump, and hearing them say ‘I’m so disappointed in myself, I wish I’d done something earlier’.”
For more information about the specialist Breast Clinic at Spire Regency Hospital or to make an appointment, contact Pat or Annie on 01625 505412 or email email@example.com