Breast cancer diagnoses are not “keeping pace with what we’ve seen in the past” - News & Updates • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

Breast cancer diagnoses are not “keeping pace with what we’ve seen in the past”

Contrary to the Prime Minister’s claims that cancer diagnoses appear to be “keeping pace with what we’ve seen in the past”, the breast screening backlog is putting the lives of New Zealand women at risk, argues Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.

In an interview on Three’s AM show on 28 March, Jacinda Ardern cited the Cancer Control Agency’s analysis that there was a drop in cancer diagnoses and treatment during Covid, but this has since recovered.

Ah-Leen Rayner, chief executive of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, says: “We don’t agree the levels of cancer diagnoses and treatment are where they should be. When you’ve got 50,000 women still waiting for a mammogram, that’s a system still broken. There’s no way BreastScreen Aotearoa can catch up without targeted investment, which is why we’re urging the Government to commit $15m for the 1,000 extra mammograms needed each week to get through the backlog within a year.

“Breast cancer is already the number one cause of death for New Zealand women under 65, with Māori and Pacific women most at risk. For six months, we’ve been asking the Government to act because without timely access to mammograms, we’ll see a steep rise in the number of avoidable breast cancer deaths.”

Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s research and analysis has found:

  • During last year’s lockdown, BCFNZ modelling suggested 133 women could have undetected breast cancer because they couldn’t get the mammogram that would have diagnosed them.
  • Now, with the screening backlog of 50,000 mammograms, 300 breast cancer diagnoses could go undiagnosed and untreated for too long.
  • BreastScreen Aotearoa sets a target of 70% participation in the breast screening programme and it had been meeting this target until the arrival of Covid. Since 2020, participation has dropped to 64% - the lowest it’s been in the past decade. Māori and Pacific are worst affected with their rates dropping to 58% and 61% respectively.
  • More than 60% of breast cancer patients aren’t getting their first surgery within 31 days of diagnosis, and this trend is increasing. Delays to surgery can have devasting consequences - a recent UK study found an eight-week delay increased your relative risk of death by 17%; 12-week delay by 26%.

For more information, see:

  • Our campaign on the impact of Covid on breast cancer