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Wolfson Institute of Population Health

Projected impact of cessation of breast cancer screening in England due to COVID-19 lockdown

A mammographer carries out a breast screening

A paper in the British Journal of Cancer has estimated the number of breast cancers for which detection may be delayed because of the suspension of population screening due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the potential impact on cancer deaths over ten years. From observed NHS Breast Screening System data, authors estimated that screening was delayed for 1,489,237 women by around 2 to 7 months between July 2020 and June 2021, leaving 745,277 outstanding screens. Additional breast cancer deaths were estimated from asymptomatic tumours progressing to symptomatically diagnosed disease, invasive tumours which remain screen-detected but at a later date, and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) progressing to invasive disease by detection. Depending on how quickly this backlog is cleared, around 2500 to 4100 cancers would shift from screen-detected to symptomatic cancers, resulting in 148 to 452 additional breast cancer deaths. There would be an additional 164 to 222 screen-detected tumour deaths, and 71 to 97 deaths from DCIS that progresses to invasive cancer. Lead author Stephen Duffy said: ”This estimation is important for policy makers to understand the potential magnitude of the impact. It is crucial that the screening backlog is addressed as soon as possible to minimise the impact of the screening delay.”

Duffy SW, Seedat F, Kearins O, et al. The projected impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on breast cancer deaths in England due to the cessation of population screening: a national estimation. Br J Cancer (2022). 



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