Nearly a million women have missed breast screening scans - and an estimated 8,600 have undetected cancer

Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 11:03 am
Updated Wednesday, 30th September 2020, 11:03 am
Breast cancer screening programmes were paused in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and although the service is up and running again, almost one million women in the UK have now missed mammograms (Photo: Shutterstock)
Breast cancer screening programmes were paused in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and although the service is up and running again, almost one million women in the UK have now missed mammograms (Photo: Shutterstock)

Breast cancer screening programmes were paused in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and although the service is up and running again, almost one million women in the UK have now missed mammograms.

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The breast cancer charity Breast Cancer Now has estimated that a total of 986,000 women across the UK missed their mammograms due to the pause in screenings, when the NHS focused its resources on the pandemic.

In each part of the UK, an estimated 838,000 women missed scans in England, 78,000 in Scotland, 48,000 in Wales and 23,000 in Northern Ireland.

Service under pressure

Although the scanning programme is now running again, social distancing measures have reduced capacity.

Breast Cancer Now warns that the service is under pressure due to both the backlog of women waiting for a scan, and more women beginning to come forward with possible symptoms.

The charity also calculates that around 8,600 women who have not had a scan have undetected breast cancer.

‘We cannot afford for the programme to be paused again’

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Breast Cancer Now chief executive, said, "That nearly one million women across the UK were caught up in the backlog waiting for breast screening is cause for grave concern.

"Mammograms are a key tool in the early detection of breast cancer, which is critical to stopping women dying from the disease.

"We understand that the breast screening programme was paused out of necessity due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, but we must now press play to ensure that all women can access breast screening, and we cannot afford for the programme to be paused again."

When should I see a GP?

The NHS explains you should see a GP if you notice any of the following:

  • A new lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast that was not there before
  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • A discharge of fluid from either of your nipples
  • A lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • A rash on or around your nipple
  • A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast

The NHS notes, “If you have symptoms and have been referred to a specialist breast unit by a GP, you'll probably be invited to have a mammogram, which is an X-ray of your breasts. You may also need an ultrasound scan.”