133 women in New Zealand have no idea they have breast cancer right now, charity warns

Lloyd Burr 14/10/2021

LISTEN: There are 133 women across New Zealand who have no idea that right now they have breast cancer.

Because of the latest COVID-19 lockdowns, these women have missed screenings that would diagnose them with breast cancer. The Breast Cancer Foundation NZ is gravely concerned for these women.

It believes the number of undetected breast cancer cases is expected to grow as both BreastScreen Aotearoa and private clinics deal with the fallout of extended lockdowns.

“We’re extremely concerned about every woman who has missed a diagnosis and is not getting the earliest possible treatment," said Ah-Leen Rayner, chief executive of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.

"Each year around 650 Kiwi women die from breast cancer and we have a real fear this number could be on the rise because of the steep drop in screening since COVID arrive."

Data also shows that since the arrival of COVID-19, a higher proportion of invasive cancers have been found later than they could have been, and participation in breast screening has been set back 10 years, with younger women and vulnerable populations most affected.

As a result, deaths from breast cancer could soon be on the rise and urgent action is required to reverse this alarming trend.

The 133 missing women can be attributed to the national breast screening programme being put on hold when the country went into Alert Level 4 on 18 August and then running at reduced capacity from Level 3.

“To the Government, our plea is to not ignore the other pressing issues that are threatening the lives of New Zealanders,” Ah-Leen Rayner said. 

“Preventing deaths from breast cancer should be just as much of a priority as preventing deaths from COVID-19.”

Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s petition calls on 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.

The petition can be signed at www.missingwomen.org.nz.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for Kiwi women, with around 3,500 women being diagnosed each year.

The survival rates for breast cancer are higher when breast cancer is found early, and mammograms can show changes inside a breast before they can be felt.

Listen to the full interview with Ah-Leen Rayner above.

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