According to a charity, the number of women in the UK who have not been screened for breast cancer has increased by 50 percent.
Breast Cancer Now said that prior to March 2020, around one million women were eligible for NHS screening who were not being screened for symptoms of the disease.
The charity said that between then and May this year, when the government began lifting COVID restrictions, there were about 1.5 million women who were not screened.
As a result, by the end of May, approximately 12,000 people will be living with undiagnosed breast cancer, now estimated to have breast cancer.
The charity is using Breast Cancer Awareness Month to urgently determine how the £50m additional fund will be used to ensure that all women with undiagnosed breast cancer are identified and without further delay that they should be treated.
An additional 10,000 people will need to start treatment in the coming months by the spring of 2022 for NHS England to meet its 22 March target of tackling the shortage of people starting cancer treatment.
Breast Cancer Now, citing recent data, said that in Wales and Northern Ireland, screening services would take three to four years to deal with the backlog.
The charity is calling on ministers across the UK to invest long-term funds in the cancer screening workforce to ensure “early breast cancer diagnosis and treatment is guaranteed now and in the future”.
NHS staff – who said the charity was “already under-resourced and over-stretched before the pandemic” – are at risk of being overwhelmed by demand for screening services, with home COVID restrictions lifted for several months now.
The charity’s chief executive Baroness Delyth Morgan said the increase in the number of women potentially missing breast cancer screening services was “shocking”.
She continued: “Women with breast cancer are paying a price because of the impact of the pandemic, and in the worst cases a delayed diagnosis could mean that some women die from this devastating disease.
“Finding and treating people with undiagnosed breast cancer early should be a priority.
“Governments across the UK must urgently ensure that there is sufficient investment to make this happen – these women have no time to wait.”
Dr Janet Dixon, President of the Royal College of Radiologists, said: “Breast services, including screening, are working flat-out to ensure that patients are seen as quickly as possible, and we cannot urge people enough – If you have any worrying symptoms, please seek help from your GP. If you are given a screening appointment, please do so.
“But even before the pandemic hit, breast imaging and treatment services were largely curtailed.
“Now, screening teams are trying to fit two years of appointments into one to capture the backlog of lakhs of people, while grappling with longstanding staff shortages and poor quality facilities, as well as due to COVID restrictions. Because of slow working.
“If the government is serious about improving breast cancer outcomes and tackling the backlog, in the short term it will have to continue investing in scanners and IT connectivity, as well as move through stalled service reforms.
“But ultimately, we cannot get away from the need to invest in people. The NHS needs more imaging and oncology staff to ensure that future breast cancer patients get the care they deserve.”
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK. Women registered with a GP are invited to have a mammogram between the ages of 50 and 53 every three years until their 71st birthday.
The NHS Breast Screening Program helps detect breast cancer early, preventing around 1,300 women from dying from the disease each year across the UK.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /