Thursday, 21 October 2021
Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Statements
It is very apt that we are having this discussion on breast cancer awareness month. This is an issue close to the hearts of many people. I do not think there is anybody in the Chamber or the country who has not been affected by a loved one, friend or family member being touched by breast cancer. The world was touched by the ravages of breast cancer when Sarah Harding died seven or eight weeks ago. She was only 39. It was a terrible loss for her family and the world.
Yesterday, at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health, the national cancer control programme gave details on an overall strategy on breast cancer. I found it very informative. Anybody who listens to it will have found it very informative. Breast cancer is very pervasive in this country.
I am slightly disappointed with something that was missing from the statement made by the Minister of State. This is with regard to the age of screening. I know it has been extended upwards to 69 but there is real merit to lowering it from 50. In Sweden and other countries in the European Union, it has been lowered to 40. Because it has been lowered to 40, particularly in Sweden, death rates have decreased by 26%. There is merit to lowering the age of screening. The Minister of State may come back on this.
The good news is that the chances of survival of those women and some men who are diagnosed with breast cancer are extremely high because of diagnosis and treatment. Over the next 20 years, breast cancer will increase by 25%. This sounds alarming but it is because of better detection and diagnostics. It is welcome. I have been speaking to many women under the screening age who are quite concerned about it. They want it to be lowered. At present, one quarter of all cases of breast cancer in Ireland are under the age of 50. They are under the radar of screening. This has to be addressed very quickly.
In March, People Before Profit submitted a motion on this with five points. These included lowering the age of screening to 40, diagnostics for younger women, triple assessment which is very important and keeps emerging, revision of the criteria for the BReast CAncer gene, BRCA, testing, which is also very important, and an education programme in schools on breast examination.
Earlier detection gives better outcomes for everybody.
The screening programme is good. It has obviously been disturbed because of the pandemic and everything has been thrown up in the air. I appeal to the Minister of State on the screening issue. Even the experts who appeared before the Joint Committee on Health on Tuesday said there is definite merit to this and gave another critique as to why the check is at 50 years of age, which I understand. There is definitely merit, however, in lowering these checks to 40 years of age. If that is the case, we can prevent the spreading of the disease and help in the saving of women’s lives.