LAST month, we marked what is probably the most important month for charities such as Breakthrough Breast Cancer – October was breast cancer awareness month (BCAM).
For these 31 days, the press, our corporate partners, individual supporters and indeed the rest of the world turn their attention to breast cancer.
In the UK, breast cancer mortality rates are dropping, yet incident rates continue to climb, and all this activity throughout October gives us an opportunity to remind people that breast cancer is not a done deal.
This year we have seen enormous support from our corporate partners including Marks and Spencer, GHD and Avon to name just a few.
Every year, we see a range of products in our high street stores, encouraging both young and old to “shop pink”. Another eye-catching partnership here in Scotland has been with Lothian Buses in Edinburgh. A special, pink double-decker bus has been travelling the streets of the capital, proudly displaying our Touch, Look, Check (TLC) breast awareness message on the side, helping to raise the profile for our cause across the region.
Of course it goes without saying that no two Octobers are the same. This year we launched the first ever Great Pink Bake Off. Thousands of Breakthrough supporters took to the kitchen to raise some dough and give breast cancer a good beating. We also launched a new, ground-breaking research programme at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. This team of senior scientists will be looking at the effects of pre-surgical chemotherapy in breast cancer patients. By looking at the tissues around the cancer in addition to the cancer itself, they aim to reduce the amount of surgery women with breast cancer need. This research stands to benefit the lives of over 3,000 women with breast cancer across the UK.
However, it is crucial that all this activity does not cloud the fundamentally important breast awareness messages. We must not lose sight of the hundreds of women who still get breast cancer each and every month and those who die from the disease throughout the whole year.
We know that early detection is key to improving the prognosis for women with breast cancer. Last year, following the success of the Scottish Government’s Detect Cancer Early campaign featuring Scottish actress Elaine C Smith, we saw the number of women going to their see their GPs with breast cancer symptoms increase by 50 per cent. This was a step in the right direction, and we must not lose this momentum. Our recent survey results tell us there is still much work to be done to ensure that women are breast aware. Half of Scottish women do not check their breasts regularly for the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. The YouGov survey also showed that of those women, an alarming 61 per cent, said a reason for not checking regularly is because they simply forget. We also know that women in Scotland still don’t know what to look out for; 92 per cent of women can’t name five common signs and symptoms of breast cancer without prompting.
These worrying statistics tell us we must make use of BCAM to spread our TLC message. Touch your breasts to feel for anything unusual, look for any changes in shape or texture and check anything unusual with your doctor. And so this month we have given out around 9,000 free mini, TLC guides to women across the UK – these guides tell women the five common signs and symptoms of breast cancer. In addition, women can also download Breakthrough’s free iBreastCheck app which reminds women to regularly check their breasts.
So what’s next? For us, the challenge of increasing breast awareness does not stop. And still too many women are dying from breast cancer.
The fundraising that comes from BCAM allows us to support our vital research to ensure that, one day, breast cancer will no longer be a life threatening disease. If you take one pink thing away from October, take a TLC Guide – and help us make sure that women are breast aware all year round.
• James Jopling is Director for Scotland at Breakthrough Breast Cancer www.breakthrough.org.uk/scotland