PUBLISHED ON: 5 October 2020

Breast screening programmes were paused in March because of Covid-19. Screening has since restarted, but Breast Cancer Now estimates almost a million women missed their screening appointment. 

Breast screening

Breast screening was suspended in March 2020 to try to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and to free up resources for the NHS.  

Many screening units began sending out invitations again in July. 

However, Breast Cancer Now estimates that while screening was paused, around 986,000 women missed having their mammogram. 

The findings come from the charity’s new report Press Play: getting and keeping breast cancer services back on track

There’s now a large backlog of appointments because of the suspension. There will also be fewer appointments than normal to begin with for safety reasons, meaning it will be a while before screening programmes are back up and running as before. 

What effect could missed appointments have? 

Breast screening can pick up cancers early, before there are any noticeable signs and symptoms.  

The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the more effective treatment is likely to be. 

Breast Cancer Now estimates around 8,600 of the women caught up in the screening appointment backlog could be living with undetected breast cancer.  

‘That nearly one million women across the UK were caught up in the backlog waiting for breast screening is cause for grave concern,’ said Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now. 

‘Mammograms are a key tool in the early detection of breast cancer, which is critical to stopping women dying from the disease. 

‘We understand the breast screening programme was paused out of necessity due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. But we must now press play to ensure that all women can access breast screening, and we cannot afford for the programme to be paused again.’ 

My appointment was cancelled: what should I do? 

If you were due to attend screening at any point since March, you should receive another invitation.  

Because of the backlog, it may take some time for your appointment to come through. You will not be able to ring up and schedule an appointment yourself. You’ll need to wait for your local screening unit to send you an invitation letter. 

Women who have been waiting the longest for their appointment are being prioritised and will be offered an appointment first. 

In the meantime, continue checking your breasts regularly and contact your GP if you notice any unusual changes

If you’re worried about Covid-19 and breast screening, you can also call our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000. 

I’ve seen sent a screening appointment: is it safe to go? 

Measures being put in place to minimise the risk of coronavirus include: 

  • Staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) 
  • Appointments being more spaced out to ensure waiting areas are quieter 

When attending your appointment: 

  • Wear a face covering during your appointment 
  • Arrive for your appointment as close to the scheduled time as possible 
  • Do not bring anyone with you, if possible 

The screening test (mammogram) will be the same as normal. 

Do not go to your appointment if: 

It’s important to continue checking your breasts regularly and contact your GP if you notice any unusual changes.

Find out more about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.

Breast cancer symptoms and signs