The fear of having surgery and chemotherapy could be putting off thousands of women from having breast screenings.
More than 40,000 eligible women across Sussex aged between 53 and 70 did not take up the offer of breast screening between March 2011 and March 2012, according to new figures.
Among trusts in Sussex, Brighton and Hove PCT had the lowest percentage of eligible women attending a screening, at just over 70%.
The national average for screenings in the same period was 77%, while the NHS-set target is 80%.
Trust officials said the figures failed to take into account the fact that the trust had widened its invitations to women aged between 47 and 73.
Officials added that the East Sussex, Brighton and Hove Breast Screening Programme of five mobile units covered Brighton and Hove, East Sussex Downs and Weald and Hastings and Rother, with the other two trusts increasing their coverage in the last year.
Screenings revealed invasive cancers in seven of every 1,000 women tested by the East Sussex, Brighton and Hove Breast Screening Programme.
Cancer charities recommended a host of methods that other trusts have used to boost uptake of screenings, including using billboard space, text messages and getting local GPs to endorse invitations or follow up on invitation letters.
Staff from Breakthrough Breast Cancer said reasons for women not taking up screenings ranged from a lack of understanding of the process to cultural and religious sensitivities about removing clothes.
Michael Ryan, of the South East Coast Cancer Screening Programmes, said Brighton and Hove reflected a national trend that women from lower-income backgrounds in cities were less likely to attend the screenings than more affluent women in rural areas such as Heathfield.
He added: “There is something in the minds of some women that it’s better not to know if there’s something wrong.
“Some women may decline to go for screening because they fear screening could lead to surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.”
Grete Brauten-Smith, the clinical nurse specialist at charity Breast Cancer Care, said: “We know that prompt detection of breast cancer can lead to more effective outcomes so we encourage all women to be breast aware, getting to know what is normal for them so they can spot and report any unusual changes to their GP immediately.”
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