The number of participants in the population screening programmes for breast cancer, cervical cancer and colorectal cancer continues to decline. This decline has been going on for years, reaching its lowest point in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there was a slight recovery in 2021, the 2022 figures once again show a decline to below pre-pandemic levels. This is evident from RIVM’s annual monitoring of cancer population screening programmes. These programmes can help reduce disease and mortality rates. Therefore, people who do not take part possibly miss out on timely and less invasive treatment. 

Participation among those invited to take part in the breast cancer screening programme fell from 73% in 2021 to almost 71% in 2022. For the colorectal cancer population screening programme, this rate fell to over 68% (down from 71% in 2021). For the cervical cancer population screening, the rate was 46% (down from 54% in 2021). RIVM is investigating why the participation rate in these population screening programmes is declining.

Cancer detected by population screening programmes

The 2022 figures show that the population screening programmes led to the detection of a type of cancer in thousands of people. In the case of colorectal and cervical cancer, a preliminary stage of cancer was often detected. The number of participants in whom cancer was detected was 6,869 for breast cancer screening, 3,642 for cervical cancer screening (96% precancerous abnormality, 4% cancer) and 16,616 for colorectal cancer screening (87% precancerous abnormality, 13% cancer).

Improving accessibility

Research has shown significantly lower participation rates among some population groups. RIVM is aware that some people in these groups cannot be reached with existing methods. They are generally people with lower incomes, a lower level of education and/or a migration background. That is why RIVM is working to gain a better understanding of how to reach these people in particular.

About the population screening programmes

Population screening programmes are medical screenings for people who do not have symptoms of the disease. Their purpose is to detect disease, a hereditary disposition to disease or factors that increase the risk of disease. The sooner a disease or its preliminary stage is detected, the sooner the patient’s treatment can start. This increases the chance of recovery or getting fewer symptoms. In the event of early detection, the treatment is often less invasive. RIVM is responsible for the national coordination of the population screening programmes on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.