Nearly one million women in the UK miss breast screening due to pandemic
According to a leading breast cancer charity, nearly one million women in the UK have missed breast screening due to the coronavirus.
Screening programmes for breast cancer were paused back in March this year as the National Health Service (NHS) focused its resources on tackling the outbreak of COVID-19.
Programmes are now back up and running, however social distancing measures have resulted in reduced capacity. Combined with the significant backlog of women waiting for a scan, and more women now coming forward with concerns about possible symptoms, the service is under intense pressure.
Breast cancer charity Breast Cancer Now estimates that a total of 986,000 women across the UK missed their mammograms due to breast screening programmes being paused – meaning around 8,600 women who have not been screened could be living with undetected breast cancer. Early diagnosis is vital, as breast cancer found at a later stage can be much harder to treat.
Their estimate is based on the average number of women screened per month, and the approximate length of time the screening programme was suspended, in each part of the UK (838,000 women in England, 78,000 in Scotland, 48,000 in Wales and 23,000 in Northern Ireland).
Screening typically diagnoses around 19,000 breast cancers a year in England.
The charity is now calling for an action plan and new resources to tackle the problem.
Breast Cancer Now chief executive, Baroness Delyth Morgan, said: "That nearly one million women across the UK were caught up in the backlog waiting for breast screening is cause for grave concern.
"Mammograms are a key tool in the early detection of breast cancer, which is critical to stopping women dying from the disease.
"We understand that the breast screening programme was paused out of necessity due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, but we must now press play to ensure that all women can access breast screening, and we cannot afford for the programme to be paused again."
It was inevitable that treatment of Covid-19 cases would be prioritised during the peak months of the outbreak. However it is greatly concerning that vital screening programmes such as this have been placed on the back burner for such a long period.
For some women with undiagnosed cancer, a 6-month delay may have a significant impact on the success of their treatment. As we head into winter, and the prospect of a second wave of Covid-19, it is vital that the medical needs of patients with other conditions are also met, or we risk them becoming secondary victims of the pandemic.
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