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The Irish Cancer society have launched their yearly October campaign for breast cancer awareness

Eve Sherlock

The Irish Cancer Society has launched their yearly campaign to promote positive breast care. Every woman should be aware of her breast health.

Sybil Mulcahy is pictured with The Bugle Babes at the launch of the Irish Cancer Society's new Get the Girls campaign.

October sees women across Ireland joining together to promote positive breast care and highlight the risks of cancer development. The question is, are people really breast cancer aware?

The campaign may be smeared everywhere each year but are women conscious of the hard-hitting facts and figures that are the driving force behind Breast Cancer Awareness month?

According to the Irish Cancer Society, 750 Dublin women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. It is the most common cancer affecting women in Ireland and it is believed that one in ten women are at risk of developing breast cancer during their lifetime.

Although the rate of women developing breast cancer is increasing, the rate of mortality is decreasing.

Right now, more than 25,000 Irish women are alive following treatment for breast cancer. The Irish Cancer Society report a 30% increase over the past ten years in survival rates.

“We have made significant advances in breast cancer over the years. More and more women are being diagnosed earlier, and most importantly, because of improvements in treatments, more women are surviving. We know that research is the key to these advances,” said Professor John Fitzpatrick, Head of Research for the Irish Cancer Society.

Europa Donna is a European wide patient advocacy group for breast cancer sufferers, in Ireland it has successfully fought for 8 specialist breast cancer centres in hospitals in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford.

Europa Donna Ireland is responsible for Breast Health Day each October, which encourages women to become their own health advocates by taking control of their options when it comes to breast health, early diagnosis and cancer treatment and support.

“As a patient advocacy group we’re currently lobbying to increase the age limit of free mammogram screenings in Ireland to 69 as research shows there is a 35% reduction in mortality rates of women up to this age following early detection,”, Dympna Watson told the Liberty. She is the Chairperson of Europa Donna Ireland, and breast cancer survivor.

As it stands, free breast screenings are currently being offered to women aged 50-64, by BreastCheck clinics who have a register of all women eligible for this service.

Huge developments in services and treatments available to breast cancer patients over the past few years and early detection has had a direct influence on the increase of survival rates in patients, however Dympna believes the message of responsible breast health is really only beginning to get out there.

“Re-education in younger women is vital to the breast cancer awareness campaign. Weight, alcohol consumption and smoking are proving to be a huge factor in the diagnosis of breast cancer at the moment”, she explains.

“Women’s lifestyles have changed in the past few years and this is reflected in the cases of breast cancer being diagnosed; healthy eating, exercise and positive lifestyle choices are the key to prevention.” According to their research, being overweight and inactive is related to one third of breast cancer cases.

Aideen Rochford, mum of three, was 35 when she found a lump in her breast. It was October and she had been reminded to check herself having seen campaign adverts on TV. Having had a benign lump removed previously, in 2000; when she was just 29, she knew the right thing to do was to contact her GP immediately.

She was then referred to a specialist clinic to undergo a routine mammogram and ultrasound, where unfortunately a breast cancer diagnosis was confirmed.

“I was under a false sense of security, I kept telling myself it was just a cyst – like last time,” explained the Wicklow mum. “If I was more proactive maybe I could’ve found the lump earlier.”

Aideen’s breast cancer is oestrogen positive, meaning high levels of oestrogen being produced in her body ‘feed’ the cancer. She was diagnosed a year after giving birth and has found that many other women with this type of breast cancer were diagnosed during or after pregnancy.

“As I was so young, breast cancer was so alien to me. Since then I’ve met so many women in their early forties being diagnosed.”

Aideen believes women avoid checking their breasts out of ‘fear of the unknown’, similar to her own mindframe before she was diagnosed.

“If there’s one message I can give to women by sharing my story, it’s not to be afraid. Breast cancer is not the worst thing that can happen to you, even during chemotherapy I could get on with my daily life. There was so much help and support there for me. If I knew what I know now, I would’ve taken the diagnosis a lot better.”

Aideen sees her whole experience as a positive one, from the people she’s met to self-discovery to a whole new outlook on life. She’s still on a course of preventative treatments but said, “I’m 100% back to myself.”

The overriding message from research and advocacy groups is to be aware of the signs and detect it early; the responsibility is with the woman herself.

Know your family history, know if you’re a high-risk patient and take the initiative to get your breasts checked. If you see or feel an abnormality go straight to your GP and if you are aged between 50 and 64 become increasingly breast aware and be sure to avail of a screening for free in a BreastCheck clinic.

“People allow themselves to believe it’s nothing, but the reality is, catching it early may be the best thing you ever do. Don’t let fear get in the way.”

You can find out where you nearest BreastCheck clinic is by visiting www.breastcheck.ie

Image Top: Irish Cancer Society

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