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Why we need a national breast screening awareness campaign

Today, we launched the next stage of our No Time To Waste campaign. We’re calling for a national awareness campaign about breast screening and how it saves lives from being lost to breast cancer.  

In March last year, we published our screening transformation blueprint. And we launched our campaign calling for the government to invest in England’s breast screening programme. We’ve seen some positive actions since, including investment in much-needed IT and digital upgrades. We also welcomed the national breast screening programme’s commitment to develop an uptake improvement plan. 

While some progress has been made on our blueprint recommendations, it’s clear that more needs to be done. That’s why we’re calling on NHS England (NHSE) and the government to run a national publicity campaign to improve the public’s awareness of breast screening and its importance. 

This week, NHSE published new data showing that only 64.6% of women in England took up their routine breast screening appointment between March 2022 and March 2023. 2022/23 

This is a small increase from the record-low uptake levels seen during COVID-19, but it’s still well below NHSE’s own minimum target of 70%. This means women some not getting their breast cancer diagnosis early, when survival rates are highest.  

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Why an awareness campaign?  

There are many reasons why some people don’t take up their breast screening offer. Research shows that a lack of screening knowledge and understanding is a key issue for many, including not knowing: 

  • What breast screening is or what to expect at the appointment 
  • How screening and early diagnosis help improve chances of survival 
  • That screening is meant for people without breast cancer symptoms and can find cancer before any symptoms show 
  • That screening is carried out by female staff only and modesty can be protected  
  • That screening can be adapted to support people with accessibility needs  
  • That screening is a free service 
  • That anyone can be affected by breast cancer, regardless of their background 
  • Mammograms don’t cause cancer or make cancer spread 

An effective awareness campaign would help address some of these information gaps. It could answer the questions or worries people may have about screening when they get their invite.  

There’s also an opportunity to educate people below the screening age (under 50), to better prepare them before they get their invite.  

And increasing awareness even in people who won’t be eligible for screening, could help normalise the topic, which could especially benefit communities where talking about cancer is taboo. 

What could an awareness campaign do? 

There isn’t going to be an easy fix to combat years of declining uptake and underinvestment in screening services, which is why our blueprint also includes many long-term changes to improve and modernise breast screening.  

However, in the short term, a successful, nationwide awareness campaign could help improve the public’s understanding of why breast screening is important, how it works, and encourage more people to take it up when they’re invited.  

Previous NHS campaigns, including campaigns focused on cancer awareness and screening, have been successful in increasing the number of people taking up different health services. And we know that it’s possible to target health messages and information to specific areas and groups where uptake is especially low.  

In the past, NHSE has even partnered with different charities to make sure their campaigns have the right impact and reach the right audiences. We understand the importance of making sure the voices and experiences of people affected by breast cancer are at the heart of everything we do.  

How can you support our call to action? 

We’re asking our supporters to back our call for a national awareness campaign.  

You can help us make sure the government and NHS England listen and act, by backing our call today - there’s No Time to Waste. 

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