Women urged to take part in breast screening as figures reveal thousands of missed tests

19 January 2022

Women are being urged to take part in breast screening as new statistics reveal 60,000 fewer mammograms took place in Yorkshire during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic.

Analysis by Yorkshire Cancer Research shows that screening rates in the region dropped by 9% during April 2020 to March 2021 compared to the previous year.

In the 10 years prior to the pandemic, screening rates remained relatively stable, with 7 in 10 of those eligible aged 50-70 up to date with their breast screening. 

But numbers plummeted while screening services were paused to protect people from Covid-19 and to allow healthcare professionals to focus on tackling the pandemic. Screening resumed in summer 2020 and since then some people may have experienced longer waits than usual for an appointment or invitation. Some people were also put off attending appointments due to fear of catching Covid-19.

The percentage of eligible women screened dropped from 71% to 62%, meaning 61,800 fewer screenings took place. In Kirklees – the area with the lowest rate in Yorkshire - just half of eligible women (51%) were up to date with their screening in 2021/22. Within some smaller areas of Yorkshire, just 3% of women were up to date.

The breast screening programme finds 8 cancers in every 1,000 people screened, which means more than 500 people in Yorkshire may have missed out on a diagnosis, or have been diagnosed at a later stage than they might have been if they had been screened.

Breast screening is designed to find cancer at an early stage when it is too small to see or feel. Finding cancers early mean treatment options are greater and there is a better chance of survival.

Dr Stuart Griffiths, Director of Research, Services and Policy at Yorkshire Cancer Research, said: “It is extremely concerning that so many screenings were missed during the first year of the pandemic. Work has begun to start clearing the huge backlog that now exists, but there is a long way to go.

“The figures mean that hundreds of women may be living with a cancer that is yet to be found. The worst-case scenario is that these people are diagnosed with cancer as an emergency, when treatment options are more limited. It is essential that people come forward for screening when invited and contact their local breast screening service if they think they are due a screening or have delayed their appointment.”

About 4,300 breast cancers are diagnosed in Yorkshire every year, and a third of these cases are diagnosed through screening. Nearly all cancers diagnosed through screening (95%) are found at an early stage, and more than 9 in 10 women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer survive for at least five years after diagnosis.

Additional screening vans have been introduced in some areas of Yorkshire to help increase the number of screening appointments available, and safety precautions to protect those taking part from Covid-19 have been in place since screening services were re-introduced in summer 2020.

Yorkshire Cancer Research is funding programmes in partnership with the NHS and local authorities to raise awareness of the importance of breast screening and increase participation, focusing on communities where attendance is low.

But the charity is also calling for more investment by the government to ensure years of progress made to improve breast cancer survival is not stalled.

Dr Griffiths continued: “While the NHS has been working hard to try to find the cancers that were missed during the first wave of the pandemic, services are under considerable strain. It will take time to clear the backlog and sadly, we are likely to see a decline in the number of women surviving breast cancer.

“The government has committed funding for better equipment to improve early diagnosis for cancer, and we want them to stick to this commitment and deliver on it. However, this investment will not achieve the desired outcome unless it is met with an increase in the cancer workforce.

“This is why we, alongside many other cancer charities, are calling on Government to commit £216m across the next three years to grow key cancer professions. We also need reassurance that screening services will continue to be protected as the pandemic develops.”

Breast screening is available to some trans and non-binary people. People who think they should have breast screening but are not invited automatically should talk to their GP surgery or call the local breast screening service to ask for an appointment.

Find out more about breast screening.

More information about local breast screening services can be found here.

 

Percentage of women aged 50-70 who have attended breast cancer screening within the last 3 years in each CCG in Yorkshire.

NHS Barnsley CCG - 51.9%

NHS Bradford District and Craven CCG - 52.8%

NHS Calderdale CCG - 68.3%

NHS Doncaster CCG - 61.8%

NHS East Riding Of Yorkshire CCG - 61.4%

NHS Hull CCG - 67.5%

NHS Kirklees CCG – 51.0%

NHS Leeds CCG - 66.8%

NHS North Yorkshire CCG - 69.7%

NHS Rotherham CCG - 60.9%

NHS Sheffield CCG - 62.1%

NHS Vale Of York CCG - 67.5%

NHS Wakefield CCG - 63.1%

 

Estimated missed breast screens in 2020/21 by Yorkshire CCG compared to what would be expected in a normal year.

NHS Barnsley CCG - 6,800

NHS Bradford District and Craven CCG - 6,100

NHS Calderdale CCG – 1,000 additional screens

NHS Doncaster CCG - 4,000

NHS East Riding of Yorkshire CCG - 7,000

NHS Hull CCG - 560

NHS Kirklees CCG - 8,900

NHS Leeds CCG - 4,500

NHS North Yorkshire CCG - 4,850

NHS Rotherham CCG - 4,550

NHS Sheffield CCG - 7,700

NHS Vale of York CCG - 4,200

NHS Wakefield CCG - 3,800

Percentage of women aged 50-70 who are up to date with their breast cancer screening by Yorkshire CCG

 

References

Public Health England Fingertips - Cancer Services  

National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service – CancerData

National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service - Routes to diagnosis 2006-2016.

Public Health England – Cancer survival

 

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