Breast Cancer Now calls for urgent investment in screening services, warning that 12,000 people may be unaware they've breast cancer
Around 12,000 people in the UK could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer, says a charity, because of the impact the pandemic has had on vital screening services.
Breast Cancer Now says it estimated that almost 1.5 million fewer women in the UK are currently undergoing breast screening compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Services were suspended in March 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, as part of efforts to try and stop the spread of Covid-19 while also freeing up resources for other areas of the NHS.
In September last year, Breast Cancer Now estimated that it meant around one million women had already missed an appointment as a result of the disruption during lockdowns.
But staff at the charity say there's now been an increase in around half a million patients, who haven't been screen since services restarted, and while NHS teams are working as hard as they can to see as many people at screening appointments and in breast clinics, the demand for mammograms and other diagnostic tests is adding further pressure to services that were already 'under-resourced and over-stretched' even before the pandemic.
Breast screening can pick up cancers early, say experts, before there are any noticeable signs and symptoms and the sooner any cancer is diagnosed, the more successful treatment is likely to be.
The charity says it estimates around 12,000 people could be currently living with an undiagnosed breast cancer due to the overwhelming workload of screening services and fewer women being referred to specialists with possible symptoms since last March.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, is calling for urgent investment to tackle the escalating backlog.
She said: "Women with breast cancer are continuing to pay the price due to the impact of the pandemic, and in the worst cases delayed diagnoses could mean that some women die of this devastating disease.
"Quickly finding and treating those with undiagnosed breast cancer must be a priority, and governments across the UK must urgently ensure there is sufficient investment to do this – these women do not have time to wait.
"Urgent investment in the chronically understaffed imaging and diagnostic workforce will enable significant headway in tackling the breast screening backlog and help ensure women with possible symptoms see a specialist quickly so that if they have breast cancer it’s diagnosed as soon as possible – only then will women receive the best care and have the best chances of survival.’
Anyone who was due to attend a breast screening appointment at any point since March last year should now have received another invitation, says Breast Cancer Now.
But any patient who thinks they are missing an offer of an appointment should contact their local screening service via the NHS website as soon as possible.
The charity is also keen to remind people, whether they are able to attend breast screening or not, how important it is to maintain regular breast checks at home and to always contact your GP surgery for an appointment if you notice any unusual changes.