There has been a drop in the percentage of women being screened for breast cancer, NHS figures show.

Data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre for England reveals 76.4 per cent of women aged 53 to 70 (about 4.25 million) were screened within the previous three years.

The figure was calculated as of 31 March, 2013, and is down on the 77 per cent who had been screened at the same point in 2012 and the 77.2 per cent in 2011.

The NHS Cancer Screening Programme says 70 per cent of women should be screened as a minimum. In London, coverage was 68.7 per cent.

The report also showed a fall for the second year running in annual uptake - the proportion of women invited for screening who are screened adequately within six months.

In 2012-13, 72.2 per cent of women aged 50 to 70 (about 1.68 million women) took up their invitation compared to 73.1 per cent in 2011-12 and 73.4 per cent in 2010-11.

Julietta Patnick, director of the NHS Cancer Screening Programmes, said: “We are disappointed to see that the latest figures for 2012-13 show a slight fall in the number of eligible women, aged 53 to 70, taking up their breast screening appointments.

“Early detection and regular screening saves lives and we encourage women to attend their appointment. Women are routinely screened in England between the ages of 50 to 70.

“Women aged 71 to 74 are not routinely invited for screening, and those aged 71 to 73 are being invited as part of a research trial currently being carried out by Public Health England.

“This trial is looking at the benefits and harms of screening women aged 71 to 73, and also of screening women aged 47 to 49.”

Information centre chief executive Alan Perkins said: “It goes without saying that the impact of breast cancer on people and their families can be severe and life-changing - this is why data included in today’s report is so enormously important in trying to monitor, evaluate and understand the use and outcomes of the NHS breast screening programme in England.”

Public health minister Jane Ellison said: “Detecting breast cancer early gives women the best chance of survival so it is concerning to see screening rates have dropped very slightly.

“It is crucial that women have the right information to help them choose whether or not to attend screening, that’s why we send out clear information setting out the risks and benefits with every invitation.

“We want to be world leaders in treating cancer, and the government’s £750m cancer strategy aims to save an additional 5,000 lives per year.

“A £12m-a-year trial is looking at increasing the age of breast screening to women aged up to 73, and our current Be Clear On Cancer campaign is informing women that they are still at risk of breast cancer when they are aged over 70.”

Mia Rosenblatt, head of policy and campaigns at Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “Although there has been a small decline in the proportion of women attending breast screening, it is encouraging to see that confidence in the screening programme remains strong, with almost two million women attending a screening appointment during the year.

“An independent review on breast screening concluded that it saves lives but also noted the risk of overtreatment as a result of screening.

“It’s therefore welcome that women are now receiving more detailed information to support them to make an informed decision about whether to attend screening.”