CANCER is the illness that many of us fear most and, for Helen Feldon, this fear was realised when she developed breast cancer five years ago.

On expert advice, she underwent the pain and trauma of a mastectomy, only to find, on being examined, that she carried a cancer gene.

This means that, for Helen, each day could bring cancer's return - and next time it could claim her life.

As she is only too aware of this danger, she is vigilant about her health, ensuring she attends her annual check-up.

Imagine then, how worried she must have been when she was told in a letter from a consultant that this screening was in doubt because of uncertainty over funding.

Imagine her anger at learning that the blood test she hoped would tell her she was cancer-free hadn't even been processed by the laboratory.

Health officials from North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust have apologised to Helen, insisted it was a one-off error, and promised that there are not wider implications for other patients.

We hope that is the case, but it seems an extraordinary statement for a consultant to make in a letter to a patient if there had been no issue over the screening programme.

Without this newspaper's intervention, Helen would still be in the dark, worrying about the future.

And that surely is no way to treat any patient, let alone one at real risk from cancer.