A dramatic surge in Google searches related to breast cancer in the last year has not correlated with an increase in mammogram participation. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Breast Cancer Foundation NZ is warning this signals a concerning trend about the state of breast cancer in Aotearoa.
The charity’s analysis of Google Trends has found New Zealanders Googled the word ‘mammogram’ 70% more so far in 2023 than in the same period during 2022. Searches for ‘breast cancer symptoms’ saw a 40% increase, and ‘breast cancer’ was searched 35% more than in the previous year.
At the same time, traffic to Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s website also increased: between 2022 and 2023 there was a 98% jump in visits to its homepage, 109% more views of its information on taking care of your breasts, and a 22% rise in views to its page about mammograms.
“In one sense, we can be encouraged by the increased popularity in searches related to breast cancer as it suggests higher awareness,” says Breast Cancer Foundation NZ’s chief executive, Ah-Leen Rayner. “But we are worried this could also indicate women are more concerned about their health – it’s likely people who are Googling symptoms believe they may be showing signs of breast cancer.”
Despite the marked interest and awareness in breast cancer, 268,000 women did not have their free mammogram in the last two years. BreastScreen Aotearoa has made huge efforts to clear the mammogram backlog created from Covid lockdowns but its latest data shows screening participation still falls well short of its 70% target.
This has prompted Breast Cancer Foundation NZ to renew its calls to the women of New Zealand to be proactive about their health, and to health officials to ensure more women can get their mammograms.
“The Google data could be telling us that Kiwis are realising it’s time to prioritise their health. But the number of women actually being screened could reflect the general sense of our health system finding it harder to cope with the post-Covid demands,” Rayner says.
“Whether it’s a case of still not being able to get a screening appointment, or people not translating their online interest to action, our message to women is to make sure you are up-to-date with your mammograms and persist with getting booked in if you’re struggling to get an appointment. It’s also really important to regularly check your breasts and get any unusual changes checked by a doctor straight away.
“Ahead of the election, we’re also calling on all political parties to improve and extend the breast screening programme so more women are able to get an early diagnosis – this is the key to surviving breast cancer. With breast cancer being the number one killer of Kiwi women under 65, we need political leadership and action to ensure we maintain our world-class breast screening programme that delivers the best service for everyone who needs it.”
Breast Cancer Foundation NZ has surveyed the main political parties and assessed what they will – and won’t – do to tackle breast cancer in its policy scorecard. The charity has asked every party to commit to a series of recommendations across screening, diagnosis and treatment it believes will have the biggest impact on breast cancer survival. See more at breastcancerfoundation.org.nz/election-scorecard