10,600 New Zealanders call for urgent action on breast screening
Breast Cancer Foundation NZ has today delivered a petition signed by 10,600 people calling for the Government to make sure women can access life-saving mammograms by clearing the Covid backlog and extending the free screening age to 74 as soon as possible. The petition was received by ACT Party deputy leader and health spokesperson Brooke van Velden in Auckland.
Breast cancer is the leading killer of NZ women under 65. Breast screening is the most effective tool for reducing deaths from breast cancer, finding tumours well before they can be felt.
With breast screening put on hold during lockdowns in the past two years, Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s modelling shows at least 133 women are living with undetected breast cancer because the mammogram that would have diagnosed them was cancelled in the Delta outbreak lockdown. The Ministry of Health has admitted after two years of lockdowns, the backlog for breast screening is as high as 50,0001.
Justine Smyth, Chair of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, said: “While we’re doing everything we can to raise awareness about the importance of screening and early detection, it’s been heart-breaking to hear from distressed women who want to protect themselves, but can’t.
“They’re telling us they can’t get rebooked for months, or aren’t being sent reminder letters after realising they’re well overdue. We’ve even heard from women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer by pure fluke after missing the mammogram that would have found their cancer earlier. There is no doubt that when you’re finding breast cancer later, more lives will be lost.
“Since uncovering this issue, we’ve reached out to the Prime Minster, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Health, other key ministers and the Ministry of Health. All our requests for meetings have been ignored or declined. Now that 10,600 New Zealanders are also asking for action, this can’t continue to be ignored.
“Women who have regular mammograms are nearly 40 percent less likely to die of breast cancer than women who don’t screen2, so it’s absolutely vital Government makes it a priority to clear the backlog and get screening participation back up to pre-Covid levels. Every day counts when you have breast cancer, and every missed mammogram is potentially putting women at lethal risk.
“Breast screening should be the top Government priority for women’s health.”
According to BreastScreen Aotearoa’s two-yearly coverage report to August 2021, screening rates dropped in 2020 and 2021 to the lowest they’ve been since 2010. Māori, Pacific and younger women are worst affected, and all ethnicities fall short of the 70% participation required for an effective screening programme. Funding is urgently needed to get this back to 70% and for the promised expansion of free mammograms to the age of 74.
1 1News article, Breast screening backlog up to 50,000 due to pandemic, 15 October 2021
2 Cohort and Case Control Analyses of Breast Cancer Mortality: BreastScreen Aotearoa