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In numbers: The state of breast screening in England in 2021/22

Read about the newly published screening data in our latest blog, the challenges we're facing and what is needed to address them

How breast screening performed in 2021/22 and what it means for the future of the screening programme

Newly published data shows that the proportion of women attending breast screening, following an invite, remains at a historic low in England. 

The breast screening programme offers routine screening, every 3 years, to women aged 50-70, so more breast cancers can be spotted early, when treatment is most likely to be successful. The programme has been key to breast cancer survival rates doubling in the last 40 years.   

However, the screening programme has been overstretched and understaffed for years. It was also impacted further during the pandemic, as routine screening was temporarily paused. 

The most recent data shows the lasting impact these challenges have had on the programme, between April 2021 and March 2022 in England –

  • Less than two thirds of women took up their invite to routine breast screening (62.3%), a less than 1%-point improvement from the year before (61.7% in 2020/21)
  • Less than half of women who were invited for the first time took up their invite to routine breast screening (49.3%)
  • Overall, more than 1 million women missed out on routine screening in England
  • In London, only half of all women invited got screened, and this fell to around a third for first time invitees (35.0%)
  • No regions in England met the 70% uptake target, despite this being the minimum standard the screening programme is expected to achieve
  • In all regions in England uptake was below 60% for first time invitees

Last year, the breast screening programme sent out a record number of screening invites, but many of these were delayed invites to women who should have been invited in 2020/21 but weren’t because of the pandemic. And, despite the hard work of NHS staff, the backlog of delayed invites has still not been eliminated. 

While clearing the invite backlog is important, the reality is that, post-COVID, the proportion of women taking up their invite to breast screening is alarmingly low. As a result, 6,364 fewer breast cancers have been found through screening in the two years since COVID, compared to the same period pre-pandemic. 

If nothing is done, as many as 680 additional women in England might die of breast cancer in the next decade, because of the impact of the pandemic on the screening programme. 

It’s clear to us that the screening programme is at breaking point, but it’s not too late to fix it if we act now. This is why we’ve launched a petition demanding the government urgently invest in breast screening to prevent more breast cancer deaths. Because when it comes to breast cancer, there really is #NoTimeToWaste.

Here’s how you can take action.

Sign our petition


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