First and foremost, I sadly lost my mother to breast cancer, so I take this issue very seriously. Please be assured that every effort is being made to continue raising awareness of breast cancer and to improve the treatment of all those diagnosed with this disease.
I want to provide reassurance that reducing waiting times for cancer treatment, including for breast cancer, is an urgent priority for the Government. As part of the 2021 Spending Review, £2.3 billion was allocated to improve diagnostic capacity over the following three years.
This will be supported by the Government’s Major Conditions Strategy. Following a recent call for evidence, the Strategy will be published in full in due course.
The Government is committed to ensuring that as many people as possible are diagnosed with breast cancer as soon as possible. Community Diagnostic Centres are also being established, which will be one-stop-shops for checks, scans and tests, helping those with suspected breast cancer to access earlier diagnostic tests closer to home.
I recognise the urgency of Breast Cancer Now's campaign to increase the recovery and uptake of breast screening services.
As the e-petition on breast screening did not receive 100,000 signatures within six months, it did not meet the threshold for a debate to be held in Parliament. However, since over 84,000 people signed this petition and breast cancer screening is a topic which impacts so many people, I have ensured colleagues in the DHSC are aware of the strength of feeling on this issue.
Whilst services have began to recover - with 2.06 million women screened in 2021-22 compared to 1.12 million in 2020-21 - I recognise there is much more progress to be made.
The NHS’s Breast Screening Programme in England offers all women between the ages of 50 and 70 the opportunity to be screened every three years for breast cancer. These screenings play a key part in the early diagnosis of breast cancer, and preventing approximately 1,300 women dying each year.
I understand that several steps are being taken to improve breast cancer screening rates in the United Kingdom, including the use of text message alerts to remind women of upcoming appointments, and local and national media campaigns to raise awareness of the breast screening programme. Through the Women’s Health Strategy, £10 million funding has been provided to expand capacity for breast screening through the delivery of 29 new breast cancer screening units, 58 remote access upgrades and nearly 70 life-saving service upgrades.
As the petition did not receive 100,000 signatures within six months, it did not meet the threshold for a debate to be held in Parliament. However, since over 84,000 people signed this petition and breast cancer screening is a topic which impacts so many people, I have ensured colleagues in the DHSC are aware of the strength of feeling on this issue.
The drug approval process in the UK is extremely rigorous, in order to ensure that treatments provided to patients are safe, as well as being effective. All treatments are required to undergo stringent clinical trials, licensing, and appraisal by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) before being made available on the NHS.
NICE has published guidance that recommends abemaciclib (also known as Verzenio) as treatment for advanced breast cancer. This follows an improved patient access scheme from the company taken together with further economic modelling data provided. These developments mean that abemaciclib can be recommended as a cost-effective use of NHS resources. For further information on this, you can find the guidance here: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/TA725
I was pleased to see the decision by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in August 2022 that Trodelvy will be recommended for treating locally advanced or metastatic triple negative breast cancer that cannot be removed surgically.
Clinical trial evidence showed that Trodelvy increased the period of survival by five months compared by chemotherapy. It is fantastic that an estimated 650 people with advanced triple negative breast cancer will now be eligible for treatment with Trodelvy.
I understand that Breast Cancer Now, along with other organisations, expressed support for Baroness Cumberlege’s workforce planning amendment to the Health and Care Act when it was progressing through the House of Lords. As part of the Health and Care Act, a workforce accountability report should be reported to Parliament at least every five years.
This report will increase transparency and accountability in the workforce planning process. For example, the report would set out the role and responsibilities of new Integrated Care Boards about how they would ensure the delivery of effective local and national workforce planning. The Government has also committed to publishing an NHS workforce plan that will consider the number of staff required to meet patient need over the next five, ten and 15 years.
Since its publication in 1995, the claims made in the book "Dressed to Kill: The link between Breast Cancer and Bras" have been heavily disputed and refuted by cancer charities, clinicians and the scientific community - both in the UK and overseas.
There is no credible evidence or scientific basis that there is a link between bra wearing and increased risk of breast cancer. In a 2017 article on persistent myths around breast cancer, the respected charity Cancer Research UK made the following comment about these claims:
"Wearing a bra or keeping a mobile phone in your bra hasn’t been shown to cause cancer. There hasn’t been much research into this because there’s no scientific way that suggests how bras and cancer might be linked. The only relevant study we found on the research database PubMed didn’t find a link between wearing a bra and breast cancer so women don’t need to worry about getting the support they need."