Pandemic impacts total number of Women screened for Breast Cancer
Figures from the NHS have also shown a total of 7,000 fewer breast cancer cases compared to the previous year and experts warn that the UK is facing a cancer timebomb after millions of diagnostic checks were postponed last year.
Over the first year of the pandemic, there were a total of 1.19m women who had the vital tests in the 12 months to April 2021, marking the lowest number since records began two decades ago and down nearly half on 2.12m the previous year. Additionally, there were also around 7,000 'missing' breast cancer cases during the first year of the pandemic, and experts warn that delays in diagnosis will reduce women's survival chances.
Charities said that these statistics were an 'alarming reminder' of the impact of the pandemic, and warned it would lead to hundreds of preventable deaths. During the first national lockdown in March 2020, NHS hospitals suspended the screening programme as the health service turned its attention to the pandemic. Although the programme was restarted in April, hospitals continued to operate severely reduced services, leading to massive backlogs. The lockdowns which followed and staffing issues made the problem even worse.
Between April 2020 and April 2021, only 1.85m invites were sent out - the fewest since 2004 and 40% lower than the previous year. In all regions of England, checks dropped across all age groups and fell below acceptable levels.
With Covid issues affecting all cancers, charities estimate more than 50,000 'missing' total cases.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has since announced a war on cancer which involves 10m extra diagnostic tests — including for breast cancer to be carried out from 2025 in diagnostic hubs which will be set up in car parks, shopping centres and community centres.
According to the NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis, the health service was now inviting 'more people than ever' for screenings and investing £70million in ramping up the services. However, he admitted that Covid impacted on services severely.
NHS figures showed that across all region’s cancer checks fell below the 'acceptable' level. London recorded 67.3% while the highest coverage were that of the South East (68.4%) and East (67.4%). These however also fell below the recommended threshold.
Women are invited for their first breast cancer screening between the ages of 50 and 53, and are then asked to come for screening every three years until they attain 70.
Cancer detection rates have also risen in previous years, with 9.4 cases now detected per 1,000 women as against 8.4 per 1,000 the year before. This is likely due to the lack of access to services which has led to early warning signs of cancer being missed, as more patients go on to develop the disease.
For all cancers, more patients are now waiting longer than two weeks than in April 2021 for a consultation even after they had been given an urgent referral from a GP.
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