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Published: 27 October 2023

New initiatives maximise screening time and help women safely attend BreastCheck appointments during COVID-19 recovery period

We’ve published a new report about our BreastCheck programme operations for 2021.

The report shows that COVID-19 restrictions continued to impact the delivery of breast screening services, including the frequency of screening. Breast screening was paused in January 2021 for two months. This followed a 7-month pause in 2020. When we began screening again in March, strict social distancing and infection control measures were still in place. We prioritised limiting risks for our screening participants and staff. Improved appointment management by text message to space out appointments helped us deliver a safer service for all.

We implemented new initiatives to encourage women to attend screening appointments when they were invited. We introduced new ways of scheduling appointments, and we increased our communications activities. We funded three new mobile units to help increase our screening capacity. This helped to maximise screening time, reduce unused appointments, and assisted with the programme’s recovery from COVID-19.

Uptake rates

There was an increase in the number of women screened in 2021 versus 2020. More than 120,000 women attended breast screening in 2021.

  • Almost 7 in 10 women invited for the first time attended for screening.
  • More than 8 in 10 women who had previously attended BreastCheck and were invited again for subsequent screening, attended in 2021.
  • Uptake was highest in younger women aged 50 to 54 across all screening invitation types.

Cancers detected

Around 3,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Ireland every year and about a third of these will have had cancer detected through screening. Breast screening aims to find breast cancer at an early stage when a woman has no symptoms and when it can be easier to treat. Of the women invited for screening in 2021 for either the first time or a subsequent time, 1,202 were diagnosed with a cancer - a cancer detection rate of 9.7 per 1,000 women screened.

Breast Cancer Awareness month

During Breast Cancer Awareness month, we’re encouraging women to come for their appointment when invited for the first time. We’re running awareness raising campaigns in the press, online and across social media platforms to provide information about our BreastCheck programme so that women can make informed decisions about screening.

BreastCheck Programme Manager Suzanne Lynch said, “Women can expect their first appointment for breast screening between the age of 50 and 53. We are particularly keen for women to take up their first screening appointment because we know women are more likely to come back regularly when they attend the first time they are invited.”

From Co. Roscommon, Angela Walton was diagnosed with breast cancer following a routine mammogram at her first BreastCheck screening. Angela has shared her story to raise awareness about the importance of screening and to encourage women to take up their first screening invitation. “I consider myself incredibly lucky” Angela said, “that I had my mammogram when I did. The X-ray is a picture taken at a specific moment in time and I was lucky that my mammogram identified a tumour, still too small to feel. If I had had my screening earlier it might not have shown up on the mammogram. And then if I had delayed going for screening, my treatment plan and diagnosis would most likely be very different.”