600 more breast cancer deaths in UK because of cancelled appointments in lockdown, medics warn

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Hundreds of women could needlessly die because of the suspension of breast cancer screening during lockdown, a study has found.

Yesterday the Mail revealed that nearly one million women have missed out on vital mammograms after the service was paused for four months during lockdown.

And today a new study estimates that delays to screening caused by Covid are likely to cost hundreds of lives in the UK.

The research, by Dutch scientists, found that up to 2.35 extra women in every 100,000 are likely to die from breast cancer because the virus has disrupted screening programmes. This equates to around 600 extra deaths in the UK.

Lead author Lindy Kregting, from the University Medical Centre Rotterdam, said: ‘Our study shows a six-month delay is likely to lead to a modest but important increase in breast cancer death rates, but different strategies for re-starting screening have different outcomes.

‘The best way to prevent deaths from breast cancer is to catch up with all the screening that was missing during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we realise that most breast screening programmes will not have the extra staff and equipment needed to do this.

Nearly one million women have missed out on vital mammograms after the service was paused for four months during lockdown - which could cause the 'needless' deaths of hundreds of women, scientists say

Nearly one million women have missed out on vital mammograms after the service was paused for four months during lockdown – which could cause the ‘needless’ deaths of hundreds of women, scientists say

‘We found that the next best option, and one that we think is feasible, is re-starting breast screening as normal after the delay but making sure that no woman misses out on her final invitation to screening, even if by now she is older than the upper age limit.’ The research was presented at the European Breast Cancer Conference.

ONE MILLION WOMEN ‘MISS VITAL BREAST SCREENING BECAUSE OF LOCKDOWN’

A million women have missed out on breast cancer screening as a result of lockdown.

The huge backlog means the killer disease may have gone undetected in around 8,600 of them.

The charity Breast Cancer Now estimates that 986,000 patients are waiting for life-saving mammograms because screening ground to a halt when the pandemic struck.

Early diagnosis hugely improves survival chances and doctors warned the delays mean young and otherwise healthy women will ‘die unnecessarily’.

The screening programme, which prevents around 1,300 deaths and detects 19,000 cases a year, was suspended for four months in March.

Today’s shocking figures highlight the catastrophic impact of the pandemic on millions of patients with conditions other than Covid-19. 

It will increase pressure on Boris Johnson to hold back on a second lockdown, with campaigners stressing that cancer care ‘cannot afford to be paused again’.

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It follows a report by the charity Breast Cancer Now that nearly 9,000 cases of breast cancer may have been missed in the UK during the pandemic.

The number of women referred to cancer specialists has also plummeted as a result of Covid-19. Between March and July, some 107,000 fewer women were referred to a specialist with suspected cases of breast cancer compared to the same period last year.

There are around 55,000 new cases of breast cancer every year in the UK, causing 11,500 deaths. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are crucial to boosting survival.

Separate research published yesterday found that nearly half of women are less likely to share concerns over their breasts with friends or doctors during the pandemic.

The study, by the Estee Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign, found that one in five are unlikely to visit a doctor even if they noticed a change in their breasts.

Ian Smith, Professor of Cancer Medicine at the Royal Marsden, said: ‘It is troubling that, as indicated by this research, some women may be less likely to share concerns about their breast health in the wake of Covid-19. 

The earlier a breast tumour is found, the better we can treat it, so anyone concerned about a potential breast cancer symptom should get it checked by their GP.’ 

GP and broadcaster Dr Zoe Williams said: ‘The research conducted showed that 20 per cent of women check their breasts less than once a year and 10% never check their breasts. 

‘Regular checking is vital, ideally once a month. There are many different signs to look out for, not just lumps, such as irritation or dimpling of the skin on the breast or flaky skin in the nipple area, to name just a couple.

‘If you notice any unusual changes, it’s important to contact your GP as soon as possible. According to the research, nearly one in 10 wouldn’t want to burden their doctor – but please take it from me, that your doctor wants to see you.’ 

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