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A million UK women may have missed breast cancer scans during pandemic


Almost one million women in the UK have missed vital breast screening due to coronavirus, a leading charity has estimated.   

Breast screening programmes were paused in March 2020 as the NHS focused resources on tackling the pandemic.

Breast Cancer Now calculates that around 8,600 women who have not had a scan have undetected breast cancer.

Although the scanning programme has resumed social distancing measures have reduced capacity.

The charity warns the service is under intense pressure when this is combined with the significant backlog of women waiting for a scan, and more women starting to come forward with concerns about possible symptoms.

Breast Cancer Now, which says late diagnosed breast cancer can be harder to treat, estimates that a total of 986,000 women across the UK missed their mammograms due to breast screening programmes being paused.

The 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.

This breaks down to almost 838,000 women in England, 78,000 in Scotland, 48,000 in Wales and 23,000 in Northern Ireland.

One woman, Susan Daniels, from Glynneath, is relieved that she took action when she found a lump in her breast.

She said: "I missed my screening at the beginning of 2020 due to a house move. So I phoned the Breast Test Wales organisation to rebook the screening, but unfortunately services were postponed because of the pandemic."

Susan then checked and found a small lump in her left breast. "When I first discovered it, I hoped it would just go away after a couple weeks. I was worried about leaving the house because we were just at the start of lockdown.

"But when the lump didn't go away I knew I had to contact my GP, who immediately referred me to the rapid diagnosis team who discovered I had cancer in both breasts.

"From there on in everything was brilliant. It was dealt with speedily. I have been through surgery, and now I am waiting for my course of radiotherapy. Anyone who has any concerns should contact their GP immediately. If I had left it, who knows where I would be now?"

Breast Cancer Now is calling for an action plan and new resources to tackle the problem.

Chief executive, Baroness Delyth Morgan, said that  waiting for breast screening is cause for grave concern.

She said: ”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 pandemic, but we must now ensure that all women can access breast screening.”

Screening typically diagnoses around 19,000 breast cancers a year in England.

Consultant breast radiologist at the Nightingale Centre, Wythenshawe Hospital Mary Wilson, said: "We desperately need more radiologists, so a long-term investment plan is essential."

An NHS in England spokesperson said: "The vast majority of cancers detected through screening programmes are at a very early stage and so any impact on patients who were due to be screened is extremely low.

"More than 200,000 people were treated for cancer during the peak of the pandemic, breast screening services are now fully up and running and thousands more invites are being sent every month - we would encourage anyone who is invited to book an appointment."