This column appeared in this week’s Barnsley Independent.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This annual, international health campaigning month is really important and is organised to increase awareness and to raise funds. But even at this time of the year people don’t talk about secondary breast cancer very much. I think it’s time we did.
From January to September this year, there have been 162 people diagnosed with breast cancer at Barnsley Hospital. But it’s impossible to know how many of these people will go on to develop secondary breast cancer.
The work of so many charities, as well as the high profile breast cancer cases in the media and local breast cancer fundraising efforts, tends to focus on a person’s initial diagnosis of breast cancer – what’s known as ‘primary’ breast cancer. And it’s a testament to all their hard work that women, and men, are much more aware of the need to go for regular mammograms and to report any changes to their GP. But what you don’t often hear about ‘secondary’ breast cancer.
Secondary breast cancer is cancer that has returned and spread. A diagnosis of secondary breast cancer means that the cancer cannot be cured, although it can be controlled, sometimes for years.
Breast cancer outcomes have improved greatly over the past twenty years and it is estimated that over half a million people are alive in the UK after a diagnosis of breast cancer. Of these, the charity Breast Cancer Care estimates that there are approximately 36,000 people living with secondary breast cancer in the UK.
One major concern is that the pain suffered by people with secondary breast cancer is not managed properly. Pain is a common symptom, but there is much that can be done to control and manage this through proper treatment. Correct treatment can dramaticallyimprove your quality of life. The problem is that sometimes people are not directed to where they can get help soon enough.
In a recent survey, Breast Cancer Care discovered that 29 per cent of people living with secondary breast cancer had never reported their pain to their doctor or nurse. Also, despite it being an important national standard that treatment that relieves pain, symptoms and stress be offered to people shortly after being told they have secondary breast cancer, 41 per cent had never been offered it.
If this is something you or a loved one is going through, don’t suffer alone. There is a lot of help out there, but sometimes it is hard to know where to go to get it. Breast Cancer Care run a free, confidential helpline where fully trained nurses can answer any questions you may have about breast cancer. The number is 0808 800 6000. You can also find out more about the treatment and control of secondary breast cancer on the Breakthrough Breast Cancer website – http://www.breakthrough.org.uk
The NHS, charities and policy makers all need to work together to make sure that there is enough support for those affected by secondary breast cancer, including their families, and that the quality of healthcare continues to improve. This is something I am committed to doing, during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month and beyond.