Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women in Northern Ireland, but it is also one of the most treatable, particularly when detected early. However, many women don’t know what to look out for, so a major new Public Health Agency (PHA) campaign is aiming to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and encourage anyone who discovers any of them to contact their GP.
Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health at the PHA, said: “Most people may know to look out for a lump, but there are other changes that could point towards breast cancer, so it is vital that everyone is aware of them, as it could save your life.
“If breast cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage of its development, it is estimated that after five years 99 out of 100 women diagnosed will still be alive, so early detection is very important.
“With advances in treatment and care over recent years, there is a lot that can be done to tackle breast cancer when it appears, but early detection is extremely important.
“With this campaign, which is the latest phase of the Be Cancer Aware campaign, we want to make women aware of a range of signs and symptoms, any of which could suggest breast cancer, and to encourage them to speak to a GP without delay if they notice anything. While breast cancer is much more common in women, it can also affect men, so anyone noticing changes in their breast should seek the advice of their GP.”
A survey commissioned by the PHA earlier this year asked women if they could recall any warning signs and symptoms of breast cancer. Two out of three women identified ‘a lump or thickening in your breast’ as a possible sign of cancer and almost half recognised that ‘a lump or thickening under your armpit’ may also be a sign. However, other potential signs were less familiar to women, including skin changes, such as dimpling and puckering, and changes to the nipple, such as discharge, bleeding or becoming turned in [see notes below for stats].
Dr McCarthy continued: “There are a number of changes to your body which may indicate breast cancer, such as turned in nipples, lumps, skin changes or crusted nipples, so if you notice any of these, speak to your GP without delay. Don’t be embarrassed and don’t put it off – the earlier you are seen, the better.
“It is also important to regularly check for changes and to be familiar with your own body – if we don’t know what’s normal for each of us, it’ll be more difficult to realise if something out of the ordinary develops.”
There were 1,294 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in Northern Ireland in 2013. It can occur at any age, however, the risk of developing it increases with age. Most breast cancers occur in women over 50.
The Be Cancer Aware campaign has been developed in consultation with a broad range of cancer charities and stakeholders.
To support the campaign, the PHA has developed a comprehensive new website at www.becancerawareni.info. The website provides information about cancer signs and symptoms, explains what to do if you’re concerned, and signposts to recommended sources of support or further information.
The hashtag for the campaign is #BeBreastAware
Notes to the editor
Statistics on breast cancer prevalence and survival available from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry: www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr/CancerStatistics/OnlineStatistics/Breast
PHA findings: A survey commissioned by the PHA in 2015 asked women if they could recall (unprompted) any warning signs/symptoms of breast cancer. The two most frequent responses were ‘a lump or thickening in your breast’ (66%) and ‘a lump or thickening under your armpit’ (45%). However, unprompted awareness of other potential signs of breast cancer was less, for example skin changes (dimpling – 16%; puckering – 15%) and changes to the nipple (discharge/bleeding – 21%; turned in – 13%).