As latest NHS England screening data reveals breast screening uptake remains below target for the fourth consecutive year, Breast Cancer Now calls for action to improve awareness of and access to vital breast screening.
With today’s alarming new NHS England data showing breast screening uptake remains below target for the fourth consecutive year, charity Breast Cancer Now is calling on the government and NHS England to deliver a national breast screening awareness campaign to encourage more women to attend screening and ultimately save more lives from breast cancer.
Only 64.6% of women invited took up their breast screening appointments in 2022/23[i] and, while this is a small improvement from the previous year, uptake has remained worryingly below the NHS minimum 70% target since 2019/20. This is cause for grave concern, as screening is a vital tool that enables most breast cancers to be detected early, when survival rates are almost 100%[ii].
If the 70% uptake target had been met, 159,841 more women would have been screened, and the charity estimates that 1,311 more breast cancers would have been found, helping to ensure these women started treatment sooner[iii].
Had screening uptake reached the NHS’ more ambitious goal of 80%, the charity estimates that 3,758 additional breast cancer cases could have been detected through screening[iv].
That only 53.7% of women in England took up their first screening invite in 2022/23 is also a particular cause for concern, as women who don’t attend their first screening are much less likely to attend when next invited.
The need for urgent action to improve screening uptake is further highlighted by Breast Cancer Now and cross-party think tank Demos, in their report ‘The Cost of Breast Cancer’, which reveals that increasing breast screening uptake across the UK to 80%, could save the UK economy between £96 million and £111 million, by 2034.
Whilst there is no easy fix for years of declining breast screening uptake, a successful, national awareness campaign would improve the public’s understanding of why breast screening is important and help bust myths and misconceptions* that can put people off attending.
This campaign must also address certain information gaps that drive poor uptake in certain groups and risk increasing health inequalities in the long term. Targeted messages that engage specific audiences are crucial to addressing these inequalities and encouraging uptake in previously under-served communities.
Responding, Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, said:
“For a fourth consecutive year, breast screening uptake in England has tragically fallen short of the minimum 70% target. Our incredible NHS staff continue to go above and beyond to provide the best standard of care, but women will continue to be denied the best chance of a timely breast cancer diagnosis until the government shows it’s serious about breast screening.
“We desperately need more eligible women to be screened for breast cancer, and for screening units to be supported to reach more women and help save more lives from the disease. And beyond addressing the huge human cost, our recent report with Demos, ‘The Cost of Breast Cancer’ highlighted how increasing breast screening uptake could also dramatically reduce the economic costs incurred by the disease in the UK.
“The government recognises the breast screening programme is crucial to achieving its aims to increase early diagnosis and reduce cancer inequalities. But these disappointing figures show that, yet again, it’s failing to take the decisive action needed to boost screening attendance.
“We’re urgently calling on the government and NHS England, as part of our #NoTimeToWaste campaign, to invest in breast screening, and deliver a national awareness campaign. This must promote the importance and availability of breast screening in England, with a focus on areas and communities where uptake is lowest; a crucial first step in transforming the programme and guaranteeing women’s access to breast screening both now and for the future.”
To back Breast Cancer Now’s campaign urging the government and NHS England to invest in guaranteeing women’s access to breast screening – now and for the future – and deliver a national breast screening awareness campaign, visit: https://action.breastcancernow.org/back-our-call-national-breast-screening-awareness-campaign.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact the Breast Cancer Now press office at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07436 107914.
Notes to Editor
Uptake as defined by NHS England is the proportion of eligible women, aged 50 to less than 71 years, who have a technically adequate breast screen within 6 months of first being offered an appointment.
Breast Cancer Now research found that women from ethnic minority groups were less likely to be aware of the screening programme and were more likely to report myths or misconceptions about breast cancer in their community, compared to white women: Breast Cancer Now (2021). Ethnic groups research insight – Top line findings Ethnos report 28 Oct, 2021. [data not publicly available].
Women from minority ethnic groups also tragically face a greater risk of late-stage diagnosis and lower survival rates, in part due to lower rates of screening attendance: https://breastcancernow.org/how-are-people-ethnically-diverse-backgrounds-impacted-breast-cancer#:~:text=Black%20women%20are%20more%20likely,cancer%20at%20diagnosis%20in%20England.
[i] Breast Screening Programme, England, 2022-23. NHS Digital. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/breast-screening-programme/england---2022-23
[ii] Cancer Survival in England, cancers diagnosed 2016 to 2020, followed up to 2021. NHS Digital. https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/cancer-survival-in-england/cancers-diagnosed-2016-to-2020-followed-up-to-2021
[iii] Breast Cancer Now analysis of NHS Breast Screening Programme, England 2022-23 (NHS Digital). Calculated by applying the rate of cancers detected per 1,000 women screened from the 50>71 cohort (this published figure includes short term recall invitations and self/GP referrals), to the number of women screened from first and all routine invitations in the 50>71 cohort. Uptake adjusted to the acceptable level target of 70% and the achievable level of 80%
[iv] Breast Cancer Now analysis of NHS Breast Screening Programme, England 2022-23 (NHS Digital). Calculated by applying the rate of cancers detected per 1,000 women screened from the 50>71 cohort (this published figure includes short term recall invitations and self/GP referrals), to the number of women screened from first and all routine invitations in the 50>71 cohort. Uptake adjusted to the acceptable level target of 70% and the achievable level of 80%