The disruption from Covid has meant 45,000 fewer breast screens were performed in the last two years compared to the two years prior, with fears it's sparking hundreds of preventable deaths.
If mum-of-three Heidi MacRae had waited for her screening check, which would have been at least four months delayed, there's a high chance it would have been too late and she wouldn't get to watch her children grow up.
Instead, MacRae, an Auckland GP, was picked up through a "lucky" routine temperature check and, she said, her ability to advocate for herself as a doctor.
"I worry about those who aren't aware they can advocate for themself," she said.
Other cancer services were also being severely affected. Prostate cancer advocate Ron Campbell said: "Men are not being diagnosed, treated or even assessed properly - if at all - in this "Cancel Cancer 4 Covid" insanity."
"No funding, screening or support for men, and their partners, facing an uncertain and at times terrifying ordeal," Campbell said.
Act Party deputy leader Brooke van Velden last month put questions to Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall about advice she's been given on addressing the growing problem and figures around the extent of the problem.
When asked about the number of breast screens postponed due to level 3 and 4 lockdown this year, Verrall said: "The latest coverage figures to September 2021 for the previous two year period shows approximately 45,000 less screens performed than the two-year period ending September 2019," documents seen by the Herald show.
The figures come after the Breast Cancer Foundation warned more than 133 New Zealand women could die of a breast cancer they didn't know they had unless the Government took urgent action.
Breast Cancer Foundation chief executive Ah-Leen Rayner said these numbers were only the tip of the iceberg and it was unacceptable the Government wasn't taking it seriously.
"Even at alert level 3 we are operating at reduced screening when we can't afford to be."
In response to the parliamentary questions, Verrall said she couldn't give the number of postponed breast cancer surgeries due to Covid, saying it's "not in the public interest" and the workload would "divert staff from their core duties".
Rayner said she was absolutely disagreed with this, saying it wasn't just the woman who were affected by breast cancer and at risk of dying from it but it also harmed those they love.
"She's a wife, she's a mum, she's a friend, she's a member of the public."
It's difficult to fix a problem if you don't know the extent of the problem, Rayner said.
Act's deputy leader said: "the arrogance of the Labour Government has reached new heights ... by saying the number of postponed breast cancer surgeries due to Covid is "not in the public interest".
Van Velden said Verrall needed to outline what she planned to catch up on the screenings.
"We need a plan, otherwise women will be undiagnosed, and more lives will be lost to this treatable disease."
A spokeswoman for the minister said the Government was "acutely aware of the importance of routine breast screening" and the delays they are facing.
"That's why this year's Budget allocated $1.9 million for BreastScreen Aotearoa to help provide appointments for people who had their screening mammogram delayed.
Te Aho o Te Kahu, the Cancer Control Agency is monitoring the impact Covid-19 restrictions have had on the treatment of cancer, she said.
"We acknowledge that there have been some disruptions while there has been Delta in the community and this can be distressing for patients. It's encouraging, however, that recent reporting from the Agency has shown that treatment continued without significant delays."
If it wasn't for a routine temperature check, a "fit and healthy" Auckland GP with three teenage children could be dying.
Heidi MacRae, 50, was due for a mammogram in August but it was cancelled due to Covid and rebooked for December.
After persistent high temperatures, the "fit and healthy" mum felt something was wrong so she pushed for further testing.
Only then was an aggressive 2.5cm breast cancer tumour discovered.
"I was hoping it was an easier to treat cancer ... I can remember the breast surgeon, who knows me, being very honest saying it's very aggressive and we are going to have to try really hard to treat it and I just zoned out and couldn't take it in," MacRae said.
She said: "There is a good chance it could have been too late if I'd waited for my mammogram.
It was very unusual for a breast cancer only to appear as a high temperature with no other symptoms or family history, she said.
"Other than that, I was completely healthy and very careful," MacRae said.
The diagnosis had been difficult because her two sons lived out of Auckland and, she said, she had to break the news to them over zoom.
"That was really, horrible and not being able to see them because of lockdown was tough because for me my biggest concern was my kids and my elderly parents, watching my dad cry was terrible," she said.
MacRae has completed four cycles of chemotherapy which is costing her $7800 every three weeks. She said she was lucky she could afford it because she knew others in her situation weren't so fortunate.
To New Zealanders worried they might have cancer, she said: "Do not hesitate to go to your GP and push for answers if you think something is wrong."