Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Statements


1:55 pm

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputy Durkan for sharing time.

Members will have to bear with me because I am breathless. I ran across from a committee vote but I am really glad I made it because this is such an important topic to discuss. I am thankful for the opportunity.

The pandemic has posed many challenges in delivering breast cancer services. Receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer has to be one of the most unthinkable results but regrettably the pandemic, coupled with the HSE cyberattack, made detecting it and administering care and treatment even more difficult. I commend BreastCheck on the welcome news that it has returned to pre-pandemic levels of assessment but it is important to acknowledge just how difficult the past 18 months have been for those living with cancer. As we heard yesterday at the Oireachtas health committee, breast cancer remains the most common cancer among women in Ireland. It is the third most common cancer in Ireland after skin and prostate cancers. Sadly, one in seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes.

We are all aware that breast cancer also affects men. Some 37 men are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Ireland. Last year there were 600 fewer breast cancer detections, but not for the right reasons. It was not because breast cancer rates are reducing but because there was less screening and detection because of Covid-19. That is really frightening when one thinks about it.

As we know, early detection and prevention are vital in the treatment of breast cancer. Amazingly, BreastCheck is responsible for a 9% reduction in mortality from breast cancer overall. That is why I welcome that screening services have now returned to normal.

Beyond healthcare, many of those currently going through treatment heavily rely on community networks and support groups to keep them going, both emotionally and mentally. I recently joined members of the Lucan Women's Network in Corkagh Park to mark breast cancer awareness month and raise funds for the Marie Keating Foundation. Lucan Women's Network is a superb local group supporting equally superb national organisations but unfortunately organisations such as the Marie Keating Foundation, the Irish Cancer Society and Breast Cancer Ireland have been devastated by the pandemic. They could not continue at the same capacity with their boots-on-the-ground fundraisers, such as Daffodil Day and the Great Pink Run, but just like many of the breast cancer patients they support, they showed their resilience. They ploughed on with virtual and socially distanced fundraisers. However, limited fundraising led to limited funding, and that means capacity has become limited also.

In budget 2022 an extra €20 million was earmarked for the national cancer strategy. While I am aware that this has been broadly welcomed by many cancer organisations and charities, I join the Irish Cancer Society's calls for clarity on the additional funding that will be made available to help to eliminate waiting lists for cancer services. As we heard at yesterday's health committee meeting, these waiting lists are the nub of the problem. They feature across much of the health service. Having a streamlined system for assessing and treating patients has to be of the utmost importance to all of us.

The personal financial cost of having breast cancer is not talked about enough. The Irish Cancer Society has conducted research into the financial impact of having cancer and has found it is twofold. The financial factors include additional costs and, in many cases, a reduction in income. Regarding the additional costs associated with having cancer, the Irish Cancer Society's report of 2019, The Real Cost of Cancer, concludes that the average additional cost is €756 per month, with many patients facing outgoings of up to €1,000 per month. The report notes that, on average, a cancer patient faces an income loss of over €1,500 per month as a result of having to leave a job, work for fewer hours or, as is sometimes the case, close his or her own business.

I welcome the extension to the drugs payment scheme in the budget, which will help those going through treatment for breast cancer. I support further extension of the financial supports available to those going through cancer. I was very pleased that a grant of €500 was announced to go towards the cost of wigs for women who lose their hair as a result of chemotherapy. Practical supports such as that can make a real difference.

The most important message we can get across today to all women is to, please, attend their screening appointments and be breast aware. They should know the signs to look out for and check themselves regularly because, as we know, early detection is key. If you do not know what you are looking for, you should take five minutes to check the HSE website, and make a habit of it. Thankfully, the mortality rates of breast cancer are decreasing, but early detection is the key. The more awareness there is among women and men about what to look out for, the better the outcomes will be for everyone. Breast cancer awareness is an important tool in early detection and I welcome the focus that breast cancer awareness month is creating here in the Chamber and outside it in communities. I congratulate all of the organisations that are doing so much to promote cancer awareness and to support people through cancer diagnoses.


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