OPINION: Cancer doesn't pause for a gap in the diary. You must get tested

Around 12,000 women could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer after missing out on screening due to the pandemic

Around 12,000 women could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer after missing out on screening due to the pandemic - Credit: Getty Images

Doctors routinely bash men for ignoring health symptoms, swerving screening and medical appointments like the plague threatening their health.

In my experience, it’s women at the age most at risk of killer diseases who are the real ostriches.

Pushing their own self-care to the bottom of overwhelming to-do lists, and putting off breast, smear and bowel screening because they are “too busy”, is the mantra of too many 45-60-year-old women.

We all know to skip a call-up for a health check is stupid, are horrified when our friends admit to it, but still do it, muttering another couple of months won’t matter, when our diaries aren’t so hectic.

It does matter. We don’t have time not to.

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Skipping a mammogram, cervical smear test or putting the bowel screening kit – it’s not nice, but that’s the point – can be the beginning of the end. A matter of life or death.

Cancer doesn’t pause for a gap in the diary.

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Women find it difficult to accept, but It’s not selfish to put your own health first. Far from it,

Saying no to elderly parents who expect your attention after work, or telling your 18-year-old to get a bus home rather than expect mum’s 24/7 taxi because you have a medical appointment is not selfish, self-focused or self-centred. It’s critical and should be top of your list.

It emerged this week that nearly 12,000 women could be living with undiagnosed breast cancer after missing out on screening and test referrals as fall-out from the pandemic.

That’s 12,000 wives, partners, mothers, daughters, granddaughters, friends and employees. People we know and love.

The charity Breast Cancer Now estimates there has been a shocking 50% rise in UK women who have not had breast screening since services restarted last summer and believes almost 1.5 million fewer women had breast screening between March 2020 and May 2021 compared with pre-pandemic levels

Mammograms are a key tool in the early detection of breast cancer and vital to stopping women dying from the disease. Routine screening mammography gives patients the best chance to discover a small invasive cancer before it has spread to other parts of the body.

Skipping just one can greatly increase a person’s risk of death.

Studies have shown that 50 percent of women died from their breast cancer if they did not have routine screening mammograms than women who had routine screening mammograms.

Today, if you say one thing to your friends, partners, mothers, daughters, friends with women eligible for any health screening services to check that they’re up to date – and men too while you’re at it.

If they make excuses, play the bad cop. It’s the best act of friendship and love you can do for them. It could save their life.

We can all shove a letter to the bottom of the pile and delete a text, but the constant words in the ear from people you love on your case to get checked out leaves no room for excuses.

If you have missed a scheduled mammogram book one now.

The worst culprits are those women working full-time, with young adult children still demanding their time, at the same time looking after elderly parents because that’s what expected of them.

These women are stretched to breaking point, navigating their way through the menopause and all that brings.

A regular conversation I have with my friends is how sexist families still are, with parents and siblings expecting that daughters will keep an eye on elderly parents, whatever their own commitments and wherever they live.

The women feel it’s their duty so get on with it, often at a cost to their own wellbeing and health, their own medical appointments becoming ‘nice to have’ when they get time, but making sure their elderly parents make theirs.

It’s the other way round, surely? Women in the sandwich generation – looking after people of different generations – need to keep themselves in tip top health.

Martyrs tend not to survive, and being a martyr to looking after others and always putting them first is never the route to a long healthy life.

The bad news is that, for NHS England to meet its March 2022 target of addressing the shortfall in people starting cancer treatment, an extra 10,000 people would need to have started treatment for breast cancer between May 2021 and March 2022.

The Royal College of Radiologists says breast imaging and treatment services were “massively under-resourced even before the pandemic hit”.

It all adds up to one thing. Act today and book any missed screening. Quickly finding and treating those with undiagnosed breast – or any other - cancer must be a priority.

We don’t have time to wait.

Footballer showed spot-on sense

The greatest performance by a non-politician who should seriously consider becoming one was former footballer Gary Neville on Good Morning Britain.

He stormed a discussion with former Tory minister Edwina Currie.

Articulate, calm and to the point, from a pavement live in Manchester outside the Conservative Party Conference, he destroyed Currie with his arguement for keeping the £20 a week uplift in Universal Credit, condemning the policy to withdraw it as “brutal.”

Passionate, measured and, crucially, in-touch despite his massive earned wealth, he ‘s exactly the type of person we need in Parliament to properly represent ordinary people

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