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At least 133 women across Aotearoa New Zealand have no idea they have breast cancer right now, the Breast Cancer Foundation NZ warns.
The charity is gravely concerned for these women, who have missed a mammogram that would have diagnosed them, during the latest Covid-19 lockdowns.
The number of undetected breast cancer cases is expected to grow as both BreastScreen Aotearoa and private clinics deal with the fallout of extended lockdowns.
Data shows that since the arrival of Covid, a higher proportion of invasive cancers have been found later than they could have been, and participation in breast screening has been set back 10 years, with younger women and vulnerable populations most affected.
As a result, deaths from breast cancer could soon be on the rise and urgent action is required to reverse the alarming trend.
The 133 missing women can be attributed to the national breast screening programme being put on hold when the country went into Alert Level 4 on August 18, and then running at reduced capacity from Level 3.
Breast Cancer Foundation NZ chief executive Ah-Leen Rayner, said the organisation was ‘‘extremely concerned about every woman who has missed a diagnosis and is not getting the earliest possible treatment’’.
‘‘Each year around 650 Kiwi women die from breast cancer and we have a real fear this number could be on the rise because of the steep drop in screening since Covid arrived.
“If you’ve had a mammogram cancelled, get rebooked as soon as you can.
‘‘And if you’ve discovered a lump or other symptom you should see your GP straight away, no matter what [Alert] Level you’re in.
‘‘Every day counts when you have breast cancer — don’t let Covid stop you finding breast cancer early.”
This Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October), the charity has launched a petition urging the Government to put resources into finding the missing women and restoring New Zealand’s gold-standard screening programme.
With breast cancer being the leading cause of death for Kiwi women under 65, the petition also calls for specific action needed for the health system to prioritise women.
“Preventing deaths from breast cancer should be just as much of a priority as preventing deaths from Covid-19.”
Analysis of the Breast Cancer Foundation National Register shows a 12% drop in invasive breast cancers detected by screening mammograms in 2020 than in the previous year.
The petition can be signed at www.missingwomen.org.nz.