PUBLISHED ON: 5 October 2021

Breast screening programmes were paused in March 2020 because of Covid-19. Screening restarted in summer 2020, but Breast Cancer Now estimates almost 1.5 million women fewer women in the UK had breast screening, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Breast screening

Fewer women being screened

Breast screening was suspended in March 2020 to try to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and to free up resources for the NHS. In September last year, we estimated that around a million women had missed their screening appointment.

There’s now been an increase of around half a million women who haven’t been screened since services restarted. NHS staff are working hard to see as many women as possible at breast screening services and in breast clinics. However, an increase in demand for mammograms and other diagnostic tests is adding further pressures to services that were under-resourced and over-stretched prior to the pandemic.

What effect could this have on diagnoses of breast cancer? 

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

The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the more successful treatment is likely to be.

Breast Cancer Now estimates around 12,000 people in the UK could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer due to the impact of the pandemic on breast screening services and fewer women being referred to specialists with possible symptoms of the disease since March 2020. 

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, said:

‘Women with breast cancer are continuing to pay the price due to the impact of the pandemic, and in the worst cases delayed diagnoses could mean that some women die of this devastating disease. Quickly finding and treating those with undiagnosed breast cancer must be a priority, and governments across the UK must urgently ensure there is sufficient investment to do this – these women do not have time to wait.

‘Urgent investment in the chronically understaffed imaging and diagnostic workforce will enable significant headway in tackling the breast screening backlog and help ensure women with possible symptoms see a specialist quickly so that if they have breast cancer it’s diagnosed as soon as possible – only then will women receive the best care and have the best chances of survival.’

I’ve still not been invited for breast screening, what should I do?

If you were due to attend breast screening at any point since March 2020, you should have received another invitation. If not, contact your local screening service on the NHS website.

I’m over 70. Can I request breast screening?

Currently women over 70 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can request breast screening every three years. The screening services in Scotland has yet to make a decision about whether to restart the offer of screening on request to the over-70s.

Being breast aware

It’s important to continue checking your breasts regularly, whether you are able to attend breast screening or not. Contact your GP if you notice any unusual changes.

You can call our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000 for information and support.

Breast cancer symptoms and signs