Help us find the Missing Women
Covid-19 lockdowns have had a devastating impact on breast cancer diagnoses.
After the August-November 2021 lockdowns, at least 133 women across Aotearoa New Zealand had no idea they have breast cancer, because they missed the mammogram that would have diagnosed them.
These women may still be missing from treatment in our health system, and this number will grow, as we deal with the fallout of extended lockdowns. Thanks to Covid, participation in breast screening is the lowest it’s been in more than 10 years, with Māori and Pacific women worst affected.
This can’t go on
We’ve petitioned the Government to:
- Add breast screening participation to the new Health System Indicators that measure how well our public health system is doing
- Invest in restoring and extending the BreastScreen Aotearoa programme to the agreed target of 70% coverage of women aged 45-69, and extending to 70-74 in line with other countries
- Provide funding and resources to enable BreastScreen Aotearoa to process the entire backlog within six months
- Ensure breast screening continues to operate in Level 4 lockdown in the same way as Level 3, to help minimise future losses.
10, 600 of you spoke out
Thank you to the 10,600 people who signed our petition.
You’ve helped us to make the case loud and clear that it’s unacceptable Covid-19 is stopping women from getting an early diagnosis of breast cancer.
Since then, we’ve learnt that as many as 50,000 women are still waiting for their mammograms since the first Covid lockdown in 2020.
In December 2021, we handed our petition to ACT Party deputy leader and health spokesperson Brooke van Velden. Read more about this here.
We also wrote to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minster of Health, other key ministers and officials at the Ministry of Health. The Health Minister, Andrew Little, accepted our request for a meeting and we were grateful he acknowledged the extent of the problem. But we weren’t given any reassurances that urgent action would be taken, so we’re continuing to push for this.
It’s going to take 1,000 extra mammograms per week to find the Missing Women and without any extra resources, there’s no way BreastScreen Aotearoa (BSA) can get through the backlog quickly.
That’s why we’re now calling on the Government to allocate $15 million in this year’s Budget in order to restore screening participation to pre-Covid levels.
You can read more about this in our written submission to Parliament’s Petition Select Committee. We’ve requested to present our submission to the committee in person, stay tuned for updates on this!
Are YOU one of the Missing Women?
If you missed a mammogram during lockdown, rebook immediately. You might have to wait, but make sure you get that mammogram. And share this message with anyone else you know who might have missed out.
If you have any signs of breast cancer – a lump, skin or nipple changes, a change in shape or size, or unusual breast pain – see your GP right away.
Don’t let Covid stop you finding breast cancer early
More about the missing women
When the country went into Alert Level 4 on August 18 2021, women couldn’t go for their regular mammograms. And from Level 3 onwards, it’s been harder to get a mammogram. This means breast cancer cases are going undetected in our communities.
Sadly, deaths from breast cancer could soon be on the rise. In locked-down 2020, there was a 12% drop in invasive breast cancers detected by screening mammograms compared with 2019. This means more women missed the chance to be diagnosed early. Later diagnosis can make cancer harder to treat and more likely to come back. The 2021 lockdowns have been longer than in 2020: more women will miss out.
Mammograms are one of the most effective ways to reduce deaths from breast cancer. We have one of the best breast screening programmes in the world, but data shows this is being undermined.
The Ministry of Health’s own data shows there has been a steep decline in the number of women having mammograms since Covid arrived to NZ, setting back our screening programme by 10 years.
Younger women, wāhine Māori and Pacific women are most affected. In fact, all ethnicities now fall short of the 70% participation required for an effective screening programme. Women will continue to miss out.
Overseas Covid-19 impact studies suggest that women with delayed diagnoses will need more severe treatments and some will go on to die of advanced (metastatic) breast cancer.
 2020 data from The Breast Cancer Foundation National Register – Te Rēhita Mate Ūtaetae, for women aged 45-69 in Auckland, Waikato, Wellington and Christchurch.