Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Statements


1:35 pm

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

October is breast awareness month. This is a very positive initiative in terms of promoting awareness and ensuring that everybody is breast aware. Early detection is absolutely vital when it comes to breast cancer because it saves lives. It is very important that everybody knows how and how often to check their breasts, what changes to look out for and what to do if one notices a change. In 2020, 3,704 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in Ireland. Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women. One in seven women in Ireland will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. On a more positive note, the mortality rate has fallen by 2% each year between 1994 and 2016. Behind every case number is a woman, or in rarer cases, a man, their family, friends and community. Prevention strategies around looking after our general health and early detection through self-checks and screening are vital. We must invest in preventative healthcare, awareness, early diagnosis, screening, community supports and treatment services.

Sinn Féin recently launched a health policy document in which we pledged an additional €20 million for the National Cancer Strategy to ensure continued improvements in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. We also pledged an additional €22 million for cancer screening services to improve access and capacity. Screening is absolutely central to responding to breast cancer. Earlier this week the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health heard that cancer services are facing significant challenges arising from the pandemic, the HSE cyberattack in May and historic capacity issues which were flagged as far back as 2018. The committee also heard that there is anecdotal evidence that people are presenting in the more advanced stages of the disease as a result. While screening rates are back to pre-pandemic levels, the fact remains that restrictions had a devastating effect on screening services, with Professor Fidelma Flanagan, lead clinical director for BreastCheck, saying that the service lost a year and that it will take years to recover.

We need to consider expanding the ages at which we screen.

At the moment, only women aged between 50 and 69 undergo screening, as this is when women are at the highest risk of developing breast cancer. The cases reported for women under 50 and over the age of 69 are lower than for those in the screening age group but they are still significant. We need to be mindful of breast cancer at different stages of life and we need to review the screening ages in line with the incidence rate.

At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health this week, Professor Fidelma Flanagan said that because cancer incidence is low in the under-45 age group screening is not advised but that BreastCheck is considering expanding screening to those aged under 50 and over 70. I hope this can be done and the Government invests in the service to allow it to happen.

In other European countries, the approach to preventative care involves people being given an appointment for a breast check and other vital check-ups. Anyone who does not attend a first appointment receives a second appointment notice in the post and failure to attend that appointment means a third appointment must be paid for. This acts as an incentive to avail of preventative measures from an early age.


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