The fight against breast cancer is stalling, according to a study which has accused the NHS of a “dereliction of duty”.
The number of women attending for mammograms is declining, waiting times for treatment are increasing, and thousands of people are missing out on cheap drugs that could cut the risk of their cancer returning.
When post-menopausal women are given bisphosphonates within six months of their diagnosis, the risk of breast cancer spreading to their bones within 10 years falls by 28% and the risk of death from the cancer is reduced by 18%.
The 43p-a-day drugs can prevent more than 1,000 breast cancer deaths a year, Breast Cancer Now says in its report: Good Enough? Breast Cancer In The UK.
The charity said the drugs could also save the NHS £5m a year across the UK.
However, only 42 out of England’s 208 Clinical Commissioning Groups routinely fund them, with a further 6% of CCGs deciding to fund the drugs but being in the process of implementing the decision.
In Scotland and Wales, two out of three cancer networks offered them.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said that bisphosphonates are a “simple and cost effective chance to cut 10% of all UK breast cancer deaths”.
She said that the drugs are already at the NHS’s disposal and the refusal to use them is “nothing short of a dereliction of duty”.
Rob Coleman, professor of medical oncology at the University of Sheffield, said: “The inability of NHS England to action this treatment across the country is totally unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, in England, the proportion of women taking up their invitation for screening has fallen from 74.8% in 2005/06 to 72.1% in 2015/16.
In the first quarter of 2011/12, 97% of patients began treatment within 62 days of a GP suspecting they had breast cancer but this had fallen to 93.5% in the same quarter of 2017/18.
The report also raises concerns about a shortage of breast radiologists, with 21% expected to retire by 2020 and 32% by 2025.
Despite “real progress” in the last 25 years, the report says, UK survival figures are masking a “worrying plateau in progress” for the treatment of breast cancer.
An NHS England spokeswoman said: “As well as upgrading modern radiotherapy equipment and ensuring faster access to the most promising new cancer drugs, the NHS is investing £200m over the next two years in faster diagnosis and
A Department of Health spokesman added: “We have made huge progress on tackling cancer – an estimated 7,000 more people are surviving cancer after successful NHS treatment compared to three years ago and NHS England is leading crucial work to save a further 30,000 lives a year by 2020.”