Our new policy report, 'Good enough? Breast cancer in the UK', has revealed opportunities are being missed to save more lives from breast cancer. You can help us fix that in minutes.
What’s the problem?
Progress is stalling in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer and opportunities are being missed to save more lives from breast cancer. Unprecedented pressures in the health service, uncertainty, change and bureaucracy are all affecting efforts to improve care for people with breast cancer.
Over 50,000 women and around 350 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, making it the most common cancer in the UK. Despite progress in scientific research, every year around 11,500 women and 80 men still die from breast cancer – that’s nearly 1,000 deaths each month.
But you can easily help. Ask the Government to take action now.
What’s the solution?
We must act quickly to make sure that patients have access to the drugs they need and that there are enough specialist doctors, nurses and health care professionals to diagnose, treat and support them, wherever they live.
Our new report, Good enough? Breast cancer in the UK, identifies the three most pressing actions that governments across the UK must take to save more lives from breast cancer:
- Prevent more cases of breast cancer: Every effort must be made to significantly improve patient access to preventative drugs for breast cancer.
- Diagnose breast cancer earlier: Governments must plan for and provide funding so that there are enough NHS staff to diagnose breast cancer early, now and in the future.
- Improve access to breast cancer treatments: There is an urgent need to reform the way that medicines are appraised and funded to ensure that patients have timely access to life extending drugs, at a price the health service and taxpayer can afford.
If UK governments address these issues and implement our recommendations, then more lives will be saved from breast cancer and the lives of those living with it will be improved.
How can you help?
There are three ways you can help us. If you have 2 minutes send a pre-written email to your politician, if you have 5 minutes send a pre-written letter to your local newspaper, and if you have longer, go and visit your local politician in person. We’ve made a guide to help you do this.
The more strongly you can demonstrate you feel about an issue, the more effective your actions will be:
The more people who take part, the more likely politicians are to take notice and act on the recommendations of our report.
Good enough? What does the report tell us?
Opportunities are being missed to prevent more cases of breast cancer
The government must make every effort to significantly improve patient access to preventative drugs for breast cancer.
Prevention is better than cure. We know that a lot more can be done to prevent the number of cases of breast cancer in the UK. This will ultimately save lives and decrease the burden on the NHS. Yet the incidence of breast cancer continues to increase and opportunities continue to be missed.
We need to see a renewed focus on tackling the lifestyle and other factors that we know can affect the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Women at higher risk of the breast cancer are missing out on drugs that could reduce their risk of breast cancer. Research shows that just over half of GPs in the UK are aware that tamoxifen could be used to reduce the risk of breast, despite clinical guidelines recommending their use in some cases, depending on medical history.\
- Only 20% of Clinical Commissioning Groups in England – responsible for local NHS planning and commissioning – are routinely funding bisphosphonates to prevent the spread of breast cancer. These effective and cheap drugs only cost 43p a day and could save over 1000 lives a year.
- Obesity has increased across the nations. This needs to be addressed, as we know that being overweight or obese can increase your risk of breast cancer, while being physically active can decrease your risk.
Sarah, 54, lives in Wales and makes lifestyle choices to try and prevent breast cancer
"Due to my family history, I take a strong interest in how I can lower my risk of breast cancer and I’m particularly interested in the difference lifestyle factors can make. Other interventions to reduce my risk, such as tamoxifen have been discussed."
"I think it’s incredibly important to have a good routine of being aware of your own body and being vigilant to any changes. For me, personally being proactive goes a long way to dissipating my anxiety of this disease which took my mother far too soon."
Opportunities are being missed to diagnose breast cancer earlier
Governments must plan for and provide funding so that there are enough NHS staff to diagnose breast cancer early, now and in the future.
The earlier breast cancer is detected, the greater the chance that treatment will be successful. This can be achieved if women are aware of the symptoms of breast cancer, attend screening, and are seen quickly.
More needs to be done to encourage women to attend breast screening, and ensure there are enough specialists to see them.
- 15% of the mammography posts are currently vacant, and 32% of breast radiologists are expected to retire by 2025, both vital to diagnose breast cancer early.
- Waiting-time performance is falling: While waiting-time targets for treatment have been met over the last year, performance has declined significantly since 2012 – from 97% patients beginning treatment within 62 days of GP referral with suspected breast cancer in Q1 2011/12, to 93.5% in Q1 2017/18. This links closely with staff shortages in diagnostics.
- Screening uptake has been slowly but steadily decreasing. The proportion of women taking up their invitation to the NHS Breast Screening Programme in England fell from 74.8% in 2005/6 to 72.1% in 2015/16.
April, 25, is a mammographer based in North West England. She explains the effect of the workforce crisis
"There is undoubtedly a staffing crisis in mammography. Having spent three years working for the National Breast Screening Programme, I made the difficult decision last December to resign from my job because of the pressures I was facing.
"My department was chronically understaffed and the workload was increasing, with no change to pay."
"There is only so much harder people can work for such little gain."
Opportunities are being missed to improve breast cancer treatments and care
There is an urgent need to reform the way that medicines are appraised and funded to ensure that patients have timely access to life extending drugs, at a price the health service and taxpayer can afford.
The best treatment and care, delivered quickly, can save lives. It can also ensure that people with secondary breast cancer live as well as possible, for as long as possible.
We must ensure that patients have access to clinically effective breast cancer medicines and that people with secondary breast cancer have access to the treatments and care they need.
- The UK has one of the lowest uptake rates of new cancer drugs compared with the largest European economies. Research has led to the development of new medicines for breast cancer that can significantly increase the amount of good quality time that women that women with secondary breast cancer has before the disease spreads, and overall survival. However, these have not been routinely reaching patients in the UK.
- Data collection for the diagnosis, treatment and care of secondary breast cancer patients needs to be prioritised to inform improvements to these patients’ care, which is often reported to be poorer than for patients with primary breast cancer. We know Clinical Nurse Specialists can make a big difference to the way patients experience care, however access to CNS for patients with secondary breast cancer is significantly lower than for patients with primary breast cancer.
Simon, aged 55, from Scotland, lost his wife Sue in 2014 after a battle with secondary breast cancer
"There’s no cure for secondary breast cancer, but there are a growing number of drugs that can delay the spread with few side effects, buying patients time with their loved ones."
"In Sue’s case, that precious time was 18 months."
Add your voice
Email your local politician to ask the Government to take action now.