MORE than 18,000 women were not up to date with potentially life-saving breast screenings in Bradford during the year leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, figures show.

With Breast Cancer Awareness Month under way, experts are urging women to check for signs and symptoms of the disease and for those eligible to take up routine screening invitations.

The NHS breast screening programme sees women aged between 50 and 71 invited every three years to undergo a mammogram designed to detect cancers that are too small to see or feel.

The latest available NHS Digital figures show that just 65% of eligible women in Bradford were up to date with their screenings at the end of March 2020 – meaning roughly 18,326 were not, down from 70% the year before.

It meant health services in the area missed the national minimum target of 70% uptake.

A spokesperson for Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “In line with many other areas across the country, the number of local women taking up routine breast screening invitations has fallen. Screening is a vital health check for women aged 50 to 73 and we would urge all women to take up their invitations to make appointments.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said a decline in screening uptake in recent years was already a “concern” prior to the pandemic, adding the charity estimates 1.2 million fewer women had a screening in 2020 due to coronavirus-related disruption.

She said: “We must do all we can to increase the number of women taking up their invitation to breast screening, including text reminders, more convenient appointments and improving awareness of the programme.”

Professor Anne Mackie, director of screening at Public Health England, added: “While screening is a personal choice, we are analysing the barriers that deter some women.”

Breast screening is estimated to save 1,300 lives in England each year, but just 69% of women offered a screening in 2019-20 took up the offer, compared to 71% the year before.

Different figures show in the same year, roughly 9,500 women across England died from breast cancer and more than 17,700 women aged 45 or over had the cancer detected.

The most recent PHE figures at local authority level, which span a three-year period, show there were 115 breast cancer deaths in Bradford women aged up to 75 between 2017 and 2019 – equating to 18 in every 100,000 women in the age group.

A spokesperson for Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust added: “Pennine Breast Screening, based at St Luke’s Hospital, part of the Trust, covers one of the largest breast screening regions in England and invites almost 180,000 women over a three yearly period for their mammogram.

“Women are either invited to make an appointment at the hospital or at one of our mobile units convenient to where they live.

“Our health promotion specialists work tirelessly to increase screening uptake because we recognise that a mammogram is a really important detection test that saves lives.

“Routine breast screening for women across Airedale, Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees was paused for five months due to the Covid-19 pandemic but was able to start up again in August 2020.”