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Delivering a more ambitious screening programme in Wales

Breast Cancer Now has joined the Breast Screening Programme Board in Wales as a charity partner of Breast Test Wales. We’re working together to help make sure all women in Wales can access breast screening to enable early detection of breast cancer.

Breast Test Wales is responsible for delivery of breast screening in Wales. They make sure that women are offered routine breast screening appointments every 36 months.

We’re also working with Breast Test Wales on their Uptake and Equities group. As the charity partner, we’ll be helping to drive the ambitious programme forward. Together, we want to tackle health inequalities and make sure that all women in Wales can make an informed choice to attend their routine breast screening appointments.

What’s breast screening like in Wales?

According to the most recent annual report from 2019 to 2020, 69% of women attended their screening appointments during that time. The current target for uptake in Wales is 70%.

The pandemic impacted the breast screening programme heavily, causing a reduced number of breast cancer diagnoses in Wales and a large backlog of screening appointments. In 2020, 481 fewer women were diagnosed with breast cancer compared to 2019. A 17.2% decrease, this was the largest drop in all UK nations. The pandemic impacted the publishing of data and reporting on the screening programme too.

Some data on inequity has been published which shows that some groups of women are less likely to attend screening appointments. We can see the following statistics:

  • First-time invitees have the lowest uptake at 46%
  • People from some disadvantaged backgrounds are 19% less likely to attend breast screening
  • Women aged 50 to 54 have a lower uptake than women above the age of 65

What about the data?

Due to the pandemic, Breast Test Wales haven’t published their annual report on breast cancer screening since 2020, while the screening programmes in Scotland and England have already returned to annual reporting.

The performance of the programme, along with the other screening programmes, is reported on Public Health Wales’ board performance and assurance reports every 2 months – along with other publications on Covid-19. However, without the breast screening specific annual report we can’t fully understand the impact of the pause in screenings on women in Wales.

We need access to recent breast screening data so that we can analyse trends. Reliable data would also help us modernise and support the programme. More data on ethnicity, disability, sexuality, and gender identity would further help us understand health inequalities in breast screening so that we can start to tackle them.

What are we doing about it?

We’re calling for a modernised service with more data reporting, transparency and accountability.

Breast Cancer Now wants Wales to go beyond the 70% target and see 80% of women attending screenings. Our research with Demos shows that by reaching the 80% target, we can ease the human and economic cost of breast cancer by 2034.

To reach the 80% target, there needs to be a focus on closing these gaps.

Breast Test Wales should publish all annual reports from 2020 to 2024 by spring 2025, with the Welsh Government providing resources for the delivery of annual reports. Having these reports will help us understand the impact of changes such as the screening pause and new invitations.

We also want breast screening in Wales to have the following criteria:

  • Be convenient, flexible, and equitable. Breast cancer screening in Wales should be inclusive and accessible. We want to see screening data broken down by personal characteristics, so we can identify different levels of uptake between population groups. We’ll be working with the Breast Test Wales Uptake and Equities group to explore how we can deliver on the consensus statement and improve uptake.
  • Be ready to meet future demands and implement innovations, for example, through AI. This will ensure the programme remains sustainable and keeps up with demand.

Delivering on the above will give women across Wales the best possible chance to get an early breast cancer diagnosis.

How can you get involved?

People affected by breast cancer are at the heart of everything we do. By sharing your experience of using the Welsh Breast Screening Programme, you can shape our work.

Sign up to our Breast Cancer Voices bulletin to find out how you can get involved. Make sure you’re also following our Changemakers Facebook page to learn about opportunities to get involved in our campaigns near you.

Become a Breast Cancer Voice

By signing up to Breast Cancer Voices, you can guide our policy and campaigns in Wales. By sharing your experience, you can improve things for people with breast cancer.

Sign up to Breast Cancer Voices

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