A FORMER mayor of Barnsley is urging women to check themselves for signs of breast cancer as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which runs throughout October.
Margaret Sheard, who was diagnosed with the disease 20 years ago, is helping Yorkshire Cancer Research raise awareness of the symptoms of the disease and the importance of taking part in screening.
The charity is aiming to improve the early diagnosis of cancer throughout Yorkshire as part of its strategy to significantly increase survival rates in the region.
Cancers that are diagnosed at an early stage can be easier to treat and the chances of full recovery are greater. Statistics show that 99% of patients with stage 1 breast cancer survive for five years following diagnosis 1.
In NHS Barnsley CCG, incidence and mortality rates for breast cancer are higher than the both the national and Yorkshire averages. The latest statistics show that in 2014, there were 179 cases of breast cancer per 100,000 women compared to 161 in Yorkshire and 173 in England. 216 women were diagnosed with the disease 2.
In the same year, there were 38 deaths per 100,000 women in Barnsley, compared with 34 in Yorkshire and 35 in England. 46 women living in the CCG died from breast cancer 3.
Margaret said: “It was just an ache in my breast, not what you would call a pain, and there was no lump. Just a persistent, nagging ache. I have always believed that we all know our own body better than anyone else and we should listen to what it is telling us. And if something doesn’t feel right, then you shouldn’t ignore it, hoping it will go away. Tell somebody. Get it checked. That’s what I did.
“I would rather go to the doctor even if it meant being thought a bit fussy and be told there’s nothing wrong than not go and be left with the consequences somewhere down the line.”
Margaret was referred to a radiologist for a consultation and despite being initially told she was fine, she went back and was eventually diagnosed with breast cancer. Tests revealed she had a grade two tumour in her lymph gland. She underwent both chemotherapy and radiotherapy and then took Tamoxifen for 16 years.
When she became Mayor of Barnsley in 2010, Margaret used her position to introduce local cancer awareness days and opened a state-of-the-art radiotherapy machine and a new dedicated patient information centre at Weston Park Hospital, where she was treated.
Margaret said: “I want people to know that you can survive cancer. We are learning more every single day about how to prevent, detect and treat it, and I am living proof that a cancer diagnosis does not automatically mean the end, especially if it’s caught early.”
In addition to promoting self-checking for symptoms of breast cancer, Yorkshire Cancer Research is encouraging women to attend screening appointments. Breast screening is currently available through the NHS for all women aged 50 to 70, and women are invited to attend appointments every three years. In Barnsley CCG, screening participation rates vary from 63% to 84%, meaning many women do not attend appointments when invited.
Lisa Trickett, Community Health Initiatives Manager at Yorkshire Cancer Research, said: “Margaret is a great example of somebody who listened to their body and went to see their GP with their concerns. Her cancer was found at an early stage and she was able to be successfully treated.
“As well as checking your breasts, it is vital that as many women as possible attend their screening appointments when invited. Screening can detect cancer before symptoms are noticeable, so it is incredibly important in catching the disease at an early stage.
“If any women have missed their screening appointment or they are above the upper age limit of 70, they can request an appointment from their local screening centre and we would urge them to do so.”
To read more of Margaret’s story, please visit www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk/blog/margaret/.
Symptoms of breast cancer include:
• A change in how your nipple looks
• A change in the size or shape of your breast
• A lump or area of thickened tissue in your breast
• A lump or swelling in your armpit
• A rash on or around your nipple
• Dimpling on the skin of your breast
• Discharge from your nipple
Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer.
Between screening tests talk to your doctor straight away if you notice any symptoms of breast cancer.
Get to know your breasts
This will make it easier to notice any changes in how they look or feel.
• A good time to check your breasts is when you are in the bath or shower.
• Look at your breasts and feel each breast and armpit, up towards your collarbone.
• Look with your arms down by your sides and with them up in the air.
Breast screening - mammograms
An x-ray test called a ‘mammogram’ is used for breast screening. This test can find breast cancers when they are too small to see or feel.
Mammograms are carried out at special clinics or mobile breast screening units by a female member of staff. Your breasts will be x-rayed one at a time. The mammogram will then be checked for any signs of cancer.
Who can be screened?
• If you are aged 50 to 70 (or 47 to 73 in some areas) and are registered with a GP you should be sent an invitation for breast screening every three years.
• If you are aged over 70, you will stop being automatically invited for screening. You can make an appointment by contacting your local screening unit – please visit www.nhs.uk/service-search.
If you think you may have missed a breast screening, or have not been invited, contact your local screening centre to make an appointment. Make sure your doctor has your current contact details.
It is important that you keep going for breast screening during the time it is offered.
1. Cancer Research UK, Breast cancer survival by stage at diagnosis, http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/breast-cancer/survival#heading-Three
2. CancerData, Incidence, http://cancerdata.nhs.uk/incidence
3. CancerData, Mortality, http://cancerdata.nhs.uk/mortality
4. Public Health England, National General Practice Profiles – Cancer, http://fingertips.phe.org.uk/profile/general-practice/data, Accessed [February 2016].
Nikki Brady, Senior PR Officer, Yorkshire Cancer Research. Tel: 01423 877228. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors
- Harrogate-based Yorkshire Cancer Research was founded in 1925 and is the largest independent regional cancer charity in England (Registered Charity 516898). We are not part of a national charity.
- We are committed to reducing the devastating impact of cancer on the lives of people living in Yorkshire.
- Our mission is to work in partnership, fund research and support initiatives that will help people in Yorkshire avoid, survive and cope with cancer.
- Current statistics show that 575 people are diagnosed with cancer in Yorkshire every week. Incidence and mortality rates are higher than the England average due to social deprivation, post-industrialisation and lifestyle choices but also availability of healthcare services and difficulties accessing early diagnostics, clinical trials and the latest treatments.
- We aim to:
- Be the leading authority on cancer in Yorkshire, understanding the problems and priorities in the region and sharing knowledge with partners.
- Raise awareness of cancer and how to prevent it by working in local communities, schools and colleges, sports clubs and with other health-related organisations.
- Promote screening programmes and fund research that can improve the diagnosis of cancer so we can detect and treat it at the earliest opportunity.
- Invest in innovative research projects at every stage of a cancer patient's journey.
- Campaign for fair and equal access to the very best healthcare services and a greater share of the money spent nationally on research.
- For further information, please visit www.yorkshirecancerresearch.org.uk or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.