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Mater breast cancer specialists and patients are urging women to book in for breast screening after figures showed an alarming fall in the number of Queensland women attending mammograms.
The latest available figures show a 16 per cent decline in the number of Queensland women having BreastScreen mammograms in the first three months of 2022 – meaning 10,700 fewer women were screened than during the same period last year1.
The decline in screening has prompted Mater patient Karen Coningham – who was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer after failing to attend screening for five years – to issue an urgent plea to other women as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“I used to go regularly for scans, but then life just seemed to get in the way,” the 61-year-old former teacher said.
“I’d felt a lump in my breast but thought it was just a harmless cyst like I’d had before.
“When it became painful I went to get it checked and was eventually told I had advanced breast cancer – and that it had metastasised to my bones and lymph nodes.
“I know that if I had been screened earlier it would not have got to this point, so I want other women to not make the same mistake that I did.
“When it’s time for your mammogram make yourself accountable – and just do it.”
Karen was treated at Mater Private Hospital Brisbane and, while incurable, her cancer is being controlled by drug therapy.
Mater specialist breast surgeon Dr Ben Lancashire said barriers to health care access and patient disengagement related to the COVID-19 pandemic had contributed to the decline in screening, an issue that has been highlighted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare2 and Cancer Australia3.
Patient reluctance to attend healthcare settings, COVID-19 restrictions (such as isolation and quarantine requirements) and primary health care accessibility all contributed to the trend.
Dr Lancashire and his Mater breast cancer specialist colleagues also believe they have seen an uptick in late presentation breast cancers in the past year.
“It is clear that COVID-19 has impacted cancer screening,” Dr Lancashire said.
“I see many women diagnosed with breast cancer who would likely have benefited from screening at a younger age.
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