“The future of breast screening is on a knife-edge”, MPs hear at Pink Ribbon Breakfast in Parliament today
More than 100 people attended a Pink Ribbon Breakfast in Parliament’s Grand Hall this morning, where Breast Cancer Foundation NZ made a plea to Government, one week before the Budget, to save the future of breast screening in New Zealand.
MPs, women affected by breast cancer, medical professionals, health officials and other VIP guests gathered at the event to celebrate the advances New Zealand has made in breast cancer survival. Breast surgeon Professor Ian Campbell outlined how the five-year risk of dying from breast cancer has halved since 2003, thanks in large part to the success of BreastScreen Aotearoa’s screening programme.
Guests also heard a first-hand account from a breast cancer patient about how the screening backlog created by Covid-19 lockdowns is endangering women’s lives, and how Breast Cancer Foundation NZ is campaigning to restore screening to pre-Covid levels.
ACT Party deputy leader Brooke van Velden, who hosted the event, said: “Lockdowns have taken a massive toll on New Zealanders. We have repeatedly heard about the public health response to Covid-19, but so many other health issues have taken a back seat. That’s why it was important to me to host this Pink Ribbon Breakfast and raise awareness about this significant women’s health issue.”
Dr Heidi MacRae, a GP from Auckland, shared her story of being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer last September, following a fluke discovery of an unusual symptom. She was meant to have a screening mammogram weeks earlier but it had been cancelled due to lockdown.
Dr MacRae explained: “If I had waited until December when my screening mammogram had been rescheduled to, my tumour might’ve already spread to my lymph nodes or metastasised. I absolutely believe that if I didn’t have the level of health knowledge that I do, and if I had not pushed to reschedule my mammogram, things would have turned out differently for me. I am so lucky to have found it before it did any more damage, I really count my blessings.”
Ah-Leen Rayner, chief executive of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, urged guests to join the #GiveUsOurMammograms campaign. The charity is asking Government to invest $15m in targeted funding for BreastScreen Aotearoa to clear the mammogram backlog of 50,000 women within a year.
Rayner warned of the deadly consequences of not acting urgently: “The future of breast screening in Aotearoa is on a knife-edge. Doing nothing means we could lose all of the hard-won gains that we’ve made. For example, if Māori survival were to go back to where it was 10 years ago, wāhine would be twice as likely to die within five years as they are today.
“With the Budget just one week away, we’re asking New Zealanders to join our call to the Government: please act now to prevent avoidable deaths from breast cancer. When breast cancer is the number one killer of Kiwi women under the age of 65, breast screening is too important to neglect.”