Early detection, more personalised treatment and more knowledge about the causes and risk factors behind breast cancer mean that more people are surviving the disease than ever before.
That’s the message for Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, as the Irish Cancer Society looks back over 40 years to see the advances that have been made in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and survivorship associated with this disease.
Forty years ago the outlook for a breast cancer patient was vastly different from today. In 1976, almost half of women diagnosed with breast cancer died from the disease. Today, survival rates for breast cancer have increased to 85% over five years.
As part of the Irish Cancer Society’s Paint it Pink campaign, taking place throughout October, people across Ireland are encouraged to raise vital life-saving funds that will support our continued investment in breast cancer research, advocacy and services. People can raise funds by hosting a pink coffee morning or event – visit www.paintitpink.ie for more information.
According to Dr Catherine M. Kelly, consultant medical oncologist and breast cancer specialist at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and Mater Private Hospital in Dublin, “There is no doubt that the picture of breast cancer in Ireland is a much brighter one than that of 40 years ago. Much of this is down to huge advances in research. As a breast cancer researcher I’ve been at the forefront of some of these advances and can attest to the hope they bring to patients.
“While increasing survival rates are hugely significant, we must not become complacent in our battle with this disease. Better breast cancer research means better patient care, better outcomes, and one step closer to eventually beating this disease for good. That is why the Irish Cancer Society’s continued investment in cancer research – funded through you, the public – is so essential.”
Forty years ago breast cancer was rarely detected early. No breast cancer screening systems were in place anywhere in the world. It was only in 1976 that mammography was recommended as a screening tool by the American Cancer Society. Fast forward to 2016 and the prevalence of breast cancer screening programmes across Ireland means that early diagnosis is far more common.
In Ireland the BreastCheck screening programme began in February 2000 and since then over 450,000 women have been screened. The public now has more information than ever before about the signs of breast cancer, meaning that increasingly women will find a lump themselves and contact their doctor.
The last five years alone have seen research discoveries that will profoundly change the way scientists see cancer in the future.
In 2016 breast cancer patients are being diagnosed earlier, undergoing less invasive surgery and receiving more targeted therapies. We now know that every breast cancer is different. Future research will focus on personalised treatment that is even better equipped to save lives and get patients back to full health.
The Irish Cancer Society is funding a €7.5 million collaborative cancer research centre called BREAST-PREDICT that is working to achieve the development of personalised medicine. BREAST-PREDICT commenced in 2013 and is made up of approximately 50 breast cancer researchers based all around Ireland.
BREAST-PREDICT aims to test new treatment strategies for breast cancer patients, understand how patients respond to certain medicines, study the evolution of breast cancer and determine if exposure to commonly utilised medicines has an impact on breast cancer patient outcomes. This world class research is giving us a better understanding of why patients respond differently to treatments and helping to develop treatments based on each individual patient.