Breaking Down Barriers- Helping Improve Breast Cancer Screening Attendance
- Health & Social Care Research, Cancer
Breast cancer has now overtaken lung cancer, as the most common cancer in the world. In the UK, there are approximately 55,000 new cases each year, which is almost 150 every day. This number is estimated to rise in the next few decades.
But, what can be done?
Well, the good news is that a large proportion of breast cancers are treatable. More than nine out of ten women with breast cancer in England survive for more than 1 year, and three quarters more than 10 years.
These chances of survival increase the earlier the cancer is found. All women with the earliest stage of breast cancer survive 1 year, compared to two-thirds of women with the latest stage disease. Key to picking up cancer early is screening.
Breast screening has been freely available in the UK for over 30 years. As the chances of having breast cancer increases with age, screening invites women aged between 50 and 70 to have a scan, called a mammogram. While it is important for women to regularly check their breasts for lumps, these scans can pick up changes when they might not be seen or felt. In fact, breast screening is said to save 1300 lives a year by picking up early stage cancer.
So, what’s the issue?
Well, the number of women who choose to attend screening is dropping. Uptake of invitations has generally been falling over the last 10 years, with London having the lowest attendance rate of any region in the country in 2019/20. What’s also being found is that women from certain groups such as Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic women or those from certain boroughs are less likely to attend. COVID-19 has made things even worse- almost 1 million women missed their appointments because of the pandemic, which means services will be under more pressure now.
But even outside of COVID, there are lots of reasons or ‘barriers’ that stop people going to their mammograms, these include not knowing why it’s important, a fear of pain and a bad experience previously. We need to understand how these barriers effect women, and how we might overcome them, so we can help more women, who want to, attend.
What’s the plan?
Our group from the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London, are looking into why women don’t attend breast screening. We will be undertaking a number of projects to understand this important issue, and are working with Public Health England and NHS England. The projects will look to understand the challenges faced by women to attend breast cancer screening. From there we will be working with designers, behavioural psychologists and the public to develop a new tool to help get people to attend. We will then be looking how well this tool works in a trial across London.
We hope this work will help screening services across the UK better understand how they can facilitate attendance.
How do I take part?
We are offering 2 opportunities to get involved at the moment.
Firstly, we are looking for one or two people to be Public Partners. They will be a part of the team involved with the research and be involved in a number of activities from reviewing materials, recruitment and helping design the tool. Ideally, we would have someone with experience of breast screening. More information can be found on our VOICE page, including how to apply and reimbursement for being involved.
Secondly, we are looking for a larger group of women based in London to share their views of breast cancer screening as part of an interview and discussion group. We really want to understand your experiences, and how you felt if you did or didn’t decide to go. Again, you can find more information and express your interest in getting involved on our VOICE page.
Blog written by Dr Amish Acharya, Clinical Research Fellow, Imperial College London
Image: Angiola Harry on Unsplash.
This article by Dr Amish Acharya was first published on Imperial College London, Institute for Global Health Innovation Blog on October 2020.