Mr Ashu Gandhi
Association of Breast Surgery
Miss Julie Doughty
Association of Breast Surgery
Women should have every confidence that they will be seen and assessed in a safe environment.
2020 has clearly introduced a lot of uncertainty into the lives of everyone in the UK. This uncertainty and the ongoing concern of catching COVID-19 has understandably affected women’s confidence in visiting their family doctors and breast clinics to seek review of their breast symptoms. In response, breast clinics throughout the UK have made significant changes to the way the clinical services are organised, with emphasis on reducing the risk of catching COVID-19 to the lowest possible level whilst always delivering accurate and high-quality breast care.
Every month 55,000 women are seen in breast clinics nationally. Of these, 2,500 will be diagnosed with breast cancer – meaning that 52,500 women will receive the all-clear and be reassured. To maintain the service for all these women, and to incorporate the need for social distancing, breast units throughout the country have re-organised and are ready to see women safely.
Coronavirus has not changed the incidence of breast symptoms or breast cancer, and breast services in the UK have not stopped serving their local communities during the pandemic.
The benefits of a telephone breast clinic service
In order to ensure that each woman has access to high quality tests and clinical advice, many clinics have introduced a telephone clinic service. These telephone clinics are ideally suited for women with symptoms where chances of a cancer diagnosis is extremely small, such as breast pain. A conversation with a specialist on the telephone, with mammograms and scans arranged as needed, can give women answers to their questions and the peace of mind that they are after. There is the added benefit of creating space in busy clinics for women with symptoms where the concerns for a cancer diagnosis are higher and a face-to-face consultation is advisable.
Innovations in breast clinic consultations to keep everyone safe
Other innovations that will appear on the horizon for women with certain breast symptoms, or women with a previous diagnosis of breast cancer requiring follow up consultations, will include a greater use of video consultations via a highly secure NHS platform to give full protection to patient confidentiality. In addition, some breast units have successfully trialled patient-led follow up clinics, where women with a previously treated breast cancer are given much more control on how and when they interact with their breast clinics depending upon their individual needs.
Although only 5-7 of every 100 women attending a breast clinic will be diagnosed with breast cancer, women with some symptoms, such a breast lump, will continue to require a face-to-face meeting with breast specialists. All precautions will be taken to allow these women to be seen safely.
Coronavirus has not changed the incidence of breast symptoms or breast cancer, and breast services in the UK have not stopped serving their local communities during the pandemic. Instead, due to social distancing and large numbers of new breast referrals, they have adapted and innovated. Women should have every confidence to attend these clinics to have their breast symptoms assessed and diagnosed safely.