More than 30,000 women miss "vital" breast cancer screenings in Hertfordshire

This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Monday, 4th October 2021, 9:18 am

More than 30,000 women had missed potentially life-saving breast screening appointments in Hertfordshire even before the disruption brought about to cancer services by the coronavirus pandemic, figures show.

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, experts are urging women across the UK to check for signs and symptoms of the disease and for those eligible to take up their invitations for routine screenings.

The NHS breast screening programme sees women aged between 50 and 71 invited every three years to undergo a mammogram (X-ray) designed to detect cancers that are too small to see or feel.

The image has been used for illustrative purposes

The latest available NHS Digital figures show that 75 per cent of eligible women aged 53 to 71 in Hertfordshire were up to date on their screenings as of March 2020 - meaning roughly 31,835 had missed their appointments.

That proportion was in line with the year before.

It meant health services in the area achieved the national minimum target of 70 per cent uptake but fell short of the 80 per cet the NHS says all services should aim for.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now, said a decline in screening uptake across the UK in recent years was already a "concern" prior to the pandemic, adding the charity estimates 1.2 million fewer women had a screening in 2020 due to coronavirus-related disruption.

She said: "We must do all we can to increase the number of women taking up their invitation to breast screening, including text reminders, more convenient appointments and improving awareness of the programme."

"While screening comes with some risks to be aware of, we encourage women to attend their appointments when invited, including during the pandemic."

Baroness Morgan joined the NHS and Public Health England in urging women to seek medical advice if they notice any abnormal changes in their breasts.

Professor Anne Mackie, director of screening at PHE, added: "Finding cancer early means that treatment is more likely to be successful.

“While screening is a personal choice, we are analysing the barriers that deter some groups of women."

Breast screening is estimated to save 1,300 lives across England each year, but just 69 per cent of women offered a screening nationally in 2019-20 took up the offer, compared to 71 per cent the year before.

Different figures show in the same year, roughly 9,500 women across England died from breast cancer and more than 17,700 women aged 45 or over had the cancer detected.

The most recent PHE figures at local authority level, which span a three-year period, show there were 309 breast cancer deaths in Hertfordshire women aged up to 75 between 2017 and 2019 – equating to 20 in every 100,000 women in the age group.

With locally targeted interventions and the implementation of the PHE Screening Inequalities Strategy, the Government is currently working to ensure screening uptake is equal across the country.

An NHS spokeswoman said the health service is open, adding it is "vital" that people attend their breast screening when invited.

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesman said it was providing record investment in an effort to tackle backlogs influenced by the pandemic and provide an extra nine million checks, scans and operations.

He added: "Most cancer services are back to or above pre-pandemic levels and nearly half a million people were checked for cancer in June and July, some of the highest numbers ever."