Breast cancer screening has fallen due to Covid-19 and needs urgent attention — here’s what you need to know

At least 133 women in New Zealand have no idea they have breast cancer right now. That’s according to new and worrying information that is being shared by Breast Cancer Foundation NZ. As another unforeseen consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, during our level 4 lockdown breast screening was cancelled and it now runs at a reduced capacity in level 3.

That these women, and some men, will have no idea they have cancer is due to the fact that they’ll be showing no symptoms — and international Covid-19 impact studies suggest that some will then need more severe treatments when it is found, and some will go on to have metastatic breast cancer.  

In light of this health crisis, and during October which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Breast Cancer Foundation has started the Missing Woman Campaign to help find the ‘missing’ women and their missing cancer diagnoses.

It is petitioning for the government to support BreastScreen Aotearoa with funding and resources to clear the backlog within six months, to take action to restore breast screening to pre-Covid levels, and add breast screening to the national health indicators — plus extend the screening age to 70-74 in line with other countries. It’s also asking the government to ensure that, should we return to level 4 lockdown, mammograms will be able to operate in the same way as level 3 to help prevent future losses.

Since the arrival of Covid, data shows that invasive cancers are being found later than they could have been. According to the foundation, breast screening participation has been put back 10 years, which means many women are diagnosed later, the cancer is then harder to treat and has an increased likelihood of returning. This decrease in screening also negatively affects Māori & Pasifika more than anyone else.

“If you’ve had a mammogram cancelled, get rebooked as soon as you can,” implores Ah-Leen Rayner, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ. “And if you’ve discovered a lump or other symptom you should see your GP straight away, no matter what level you’re in. Every day counts when you have breast cancer — don’t let Covid stop you finding breast cancer early.”

To show your support for this important cause, make sure you sign the Missing Women petition here.


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