Earlier this month, Breast Cancer Foundation NZ launched a campaign, #GiveUsOurMammograms, to bring awareness to the backlog in breast screening caused by Covid-19 and to ask Kiwis to advocate for the women who are among the 50,000 overdue for their mammograms. Ah-Leen Rayner, chief executive, shares why this is so important to the Foundation.
It won’t come as a shock to anyone that COVID-19 had a huge impact on New Zealanders, and particularly on the health system. What may come as a surprise, however, is how much the flow-on effects from lockdown impacted women’s health, particularly when it comes to breast cancer.
You might be familiar with Breast Cancer Foundation NZ through our Pink Ribbon Breakfasts, which are wonderful fundraising events where women get together in solidarity, memory, celebration and connection. There is pink everywhere, with lots of yummy food and fun events around the country.
So, it might feel like our #GiveUsOurMammograms campaign seems a bit more shouty than you’d expect from us – but that’s the point. We need to rattle some cages.
The Ministry of Health has admitted that 50,000 women are overdue for their mammograms due to COVID delays, potentially leaving 300 breast cancer diagnoses going undiagnosed and untreated among Kiwi women. Without urgent action, the catch-up could be too late for some.
Meanwhile, our breast cancer screening rates are at the lowest level they have been in 10 years.
The Ministry of Health has admitted that 50,000 women are overdue for their mammograms due to COVID delays.
One in nine Kiwi women is diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and 650 Kiwi women die from breast cancer each year. You would be hard-pressed to find a single person in Aotearoa whose life has not been affected by this disease.
BreastScreen Aotearoa has done a phenomenal job over the past 10 years to raise screening rates, especially among our Māori and Pasifika populations. Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women in New Zealand, and the number one cause of death for women aged under 65 years. Māori and Pasifika women are particularly at risk.
The equation is simple: no mammogram = no or delayed diagnosis = delay in treatment = risk of more advanced cancer = more radical treatments and higher risk of death.
Mammograms can detect breast cancers as small as two millimetres in diameter. The smallest tumours that can be detected by self-checking are 14.5 millimetres in diameter, while the average size detected by self-checking is 22 millimetres. Early detection saves lives, and mammograms are proven to be the best method for early detection.
The women of New Zealand were let down by the 2022 Budget announcement, with the Government denying funding to address the backlog – despite already having acknowledged the urgent need to catch up.
An estimated $15 million in funding is urgently required to fund a system that was already stretched prior to the pandemic and is now in even greater need of investment in both equipment and medical professionals. We’re disappointed on behalf of all women that there is no plan to address an issue that is crucial to the wellbeing of Kiwi women, but that hasn’t dampened our resolve to keep pushing for a solution.
So what’s next? At Breast Cancer Foundation NZ we will continue to advocate for the wāhine of Aotearoa, and we invite you to join us. At an individual level, we can all contribute to the cause by ensuring that our wāhine continue to participate in the breast screening programme.
Our #GiveUsOurMammograms campaign that was launched earlier this month is an easy way to lend your voice to the cause and support those who are in the mammogram backlog to get seen by BreastScreen Aotearoa, faster.
Join #GiveUsOurMammograms with three easy steps:
- Download and print the mammogram sign from GiveUsOurMammograms.nz.
- Have someone take a (landscape) photo of you, with the sign held in front of your chest.
- Upload your photo to GiveUsOurMammograms.nz. Share your photos on social media with the hashtag #GiveUsOurMammograms and ask followers to take their own photos.
It may seem like an ambitious target, to clear the 50,000-woman backlog, but if there is one thing we know about the wāhine of Aotearoa, they can get things done. And if not for yourself, do it for the mums, grandmas, sisters, aunties, friends, whanāu and the woman down the street who deserves to have her mammogram on time. It could save her life.
BCFNZ is a not-for-profit, non-government funded organisation that depends on donations and fundraising for its work in breast cancer education and awareness, medical research and training grants, advocacy, and supporting Kiwis with breast cancer. BCFNZ’s programmes are evidence-based, and overseen by its medical advisory committee. The pink ribbon symbol is a trademark of BCFNZ.