Estimated 133 women may unknowingly have breast cancer after level 4 delayed routine mammograms - Breast Cancer Foundation

There are fears for women who had routine mammograms put on hold during alert level 4 after new modelling reveals that some patients who couldn't attend appointments may have breast cancer.

Routine screenings were put on hold during this time, and the Breast Cancer Foundation says its data estimates that 133 women in New Zealand may have breast cancer right now but don't know it yet because they couldn't get their mammogram.

The foundation's chief executive Ah-Leen Rayner says the earlier breast cancer is caught is key to surviving it.

"For us this is truly alarming. What this means is their diagnosis is later, which means their breast cancer will be harder to treat and has an increased likelihood of coming back," she says.

The Ministry of Health says the appointments were delayed to "ensure the safety of women". It's now looking at adding sessions to clear the backlog.

The Breast Cancer Foundation says these undetected cases may potentially lead to deaths that could have been prevented. It's now petitioning the Government to ensure women can get mammograms in any future level 4 lockdown, saying cancer doesn't wait.

Kirsty McAlpine is proof of that after her oncologist recently told her she could've faced a "completely different" scenario had she not found it early enough. 

The 45-year-old was asked to book her first-ever mammogram in May and was lucky because she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer before lockdown. 

"The breast surgeon said to us this is why we do our screening for cases like you - you are a prime candidate for why we need women to get mammograms because you pick it up early. It's treatable," she says.

McAlpine is now back to enjoying life after undergoing gruelling chemotherapy.

The Breast Cancer Foundation says lockdowns have put breast screenings back by 10 years, and McAlpine says those who missed out on their appointments during lockdown deserve better.