Following years of campaigning for the breast screening age to be raised to 74, Breast Cancer Foundation NZ (BCFNZ) is welcoming Dr Shane Reti’s Private Member’s Bill proposing to amend the Pae Ora (Health Futures) Act to include breast screening within the Women’s Health Strategy.
“Extending free breast screening to women up to 74 is something we’ve been talking to all political parties about for a number of years, so we’re thrilled to finally see some action to make it happen – this bill goes to show where there’s a will, there’s a way,” says Justine Smyth, chair of BCFNZ.
“It’s undisputable that funding mammograms for women to 74 will reduce deaths from breast cancer. We hope this bill gets the parliamentary support it deserves, because it would send the message that the lives of our older women are worth saving.”
Each year around 240 New Zealand women aged 70-74 are diagnosed with breast cancer (around 7% of all diagnoses) and around 65 will die. International evidence shows mammograms are still beneficial for women in their 70s, but the lack of availability of screening for over 70s in New Zealand means their survival rates are poorer. The Ministry of Health has noted extending breast screening to 74 would reduce deaths in this age group by at least a third.
BCFNZ has been campaigning since 2016 to get the breast screening age raised to 74, when it handed a 10,000-strong petition to Jacinda Ardern. The 2017 Labour/NZ First coalition agreement committed to the age extension but it has yet to be implemented.
Over the past year, the charity has raised the issue with the Prime Minister, Health Ministers, MPs, the Ministry of Health, Health NZ and BreastScreen Aotearoa. In December 2021, Act Party Deputy Leader Brooke van Velden accepted the charity’s 10,600-strong petition calling for the restoration and extension of the breast screening programme, and BCFNZ was invited to present this to the Petitions Select Committee.