We must act urgently to deal with breast cancer crisis in Britain

We must act urgently to deal with breast cancer crisis in Britain

As Covid-19 restrictions continue to be expanded throughout the UK, there is much anxiety on what this will mean for cancer care services and whether we will see the kind of reduction in services we saw in April. Whilst the rise in Covid-19 cases clearly needs to be tackled by the government, it is vital that we do not allow new restrictions to undermine cancer care services once more.

The cancer backlog we have will take years to fully recover from and any new disruptions could be catastrophic. For breast cancer patients, this could become a public health disaster.

Over a million women have now missed out on a breast cancer screening and they now make up the lion’s share of cancer patients to be hit by testing backlogs. Drops in referrals for breast cancer patients are almost double the average of other cancers.

Nearly three million people missed out on cancer screenings, tests and diagnosis from the first wave of Covid-19 according to Cancer Research UK and services have not yet recovered to pre-Covid levels.

This is now a very serious crisis and based on the rate of breast cancer diagnosis from mammograms, the latest figures mean that almost 9,000 women could be living with breast cancer without being aware of it.

Rutherford Cancer Centres experienced an increase in patient enquiries coming from breast cancer patients after Covid-19 restrictions started to take effect since March. Most concerning however is that a lot of these enquiries appear to be late stage breast cancer patients indicating late diagnosis and potential treatment delays.

We must act urgently to drive up breast cancer screenings and ensure that women are receiving the treatment they need in a timely manner. Cancer patients should commence treatment within two weeks of diagnosis according to NHS guidelines, whether it’s chemotherapy, radiotherapy or proton beam therapy - and early diagnosis is vital.

The breast cancer screening programme detects almost 20,000 breast cancers every year saving thousands of lives. We must not let breast cancer become the forgotten casualty of this pandemic. Driving up diagnostic capacity and treatment is the only solution and our centres remain open and ready to play its role in dealing with the breast cancer crisis.

By Mike Moran, chief executive officer, Rutherford Health.