THE Breast Centre at Great Western Hospital is celebrating 21 years of the Wiltshire Breast Screening Service.

It was a lucky day for staff when the service opened on September 13, 1991. The service saw the introduction of a mobile screening unit at the former Victoria Hospital in Swindon and moved to other sites in Wiltshire, including the Princess Margaret Hospital which also had a dedicated Breast Screening Unit.

In 2002 the service moved to its new home at GWH.

When the service began it had around 10 members of staff, today there are 25, including radiologists, radiographers, assistant prac- titioners, imaging assistants, receptionists and clerical staff. The team also work alongside a multi-disciplinary team, including breast surgeons and breast care clinical nurse specialists.

The service has carried out more than 420,000 screenings and detected thousands of cancers. It originally began screening women between the ages of 50 and 64 every three years in line with the national NHS Breast Screening Programme.

Since then, the age range has changed to 50 to 70. The screening programme was the first of its kind in the world and began inviting women for screening in 1988.

In its first few years the Wiltshire Breast Screening Service screened a few thousand women, but now the service at GWH screens more than 25,000 women to detect early signs of cancer.

Suzie Ferrari, breast centre manager at GWH, said: “There have been a lot of changes to our service and breast screening in the past 21 years. Moving from the old PMH to GWH was a big challenge for the team, and moving to totally digital equipment in 2010/11 was also a major change.

“Before the change our images were taken using old fashioned films, and now it is all done digitally. This has made diagnosis more accurate and speeded up the process.”

In March 2011 the Breast Care Centre at GWH introduced major improve-ments to services Swindon and Wiltshire after an investment of £1.6m.

The new facilities included two new mobile units stationed at different places in Wiltshire offering routine screening close to patients’ homes, and a new Stereo Biopsy Unit which allows for faster and more accurate sampling of suspicious areas within the breast.

Dr Sarah Taylor, clinical lead for the Breast Screening Service, said: “Last year the age range for screening was partially extended to 47 – 73.

“This has meant that up to 5,000 more women are offered routine screening each year.”