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Home » Breast Cancer, EU, Health, Healthcare Policy

Being breast cancer aware, 365 days a year

Submitted by on 14 Jul 2017 – 09:10

Why should we restrict all breast cancer awareness programs to the month of October? Emphasising the importance of education, screening and early detection of breast cancer, Dr Miriam Dalli MEP addresses the policy issues in managing breast cancer in Europe and sets out a policy plan to help member states improve their cancer survival rates

Cancer is likely to remain one of the biggest killers of the 21st century. More specifically, breast cancer, continues to be the deadliest malignancy for women of all ages. This reality will get even worse in the coming years as it is estimated that as things stand today, by 2030 there will be an estimated 805,116 people worldwide who would die of breast cancer. This is a 43% increase from 2015. These figures are not only worrying, they are shocking!

All around the world a special effort is made every year throughout the month of October to maximise Breast Cancer Awareness. This initiative is aimed at helping to increase attention on the first signs of this disease and to focus more on preventive measures. It is an important month for all breast cancer patients and their families as well as for survivors of this malady and healthcare providers. October also provides an excellent opportunity for the general public to educate themselves about facts and realities related to this condition. However, all of these initiatives should be part of a continuous process and should not limited only to the month of October.

Breast cancer is the most common type of female cancer, second only to lung cancer  as the  leading cause of death (by cancer) in women. Although the vast majority of patients are women, men should not be forgotten, as they too have specific needs such as the right to access personalised care and a care pathway to follow.

Breast cancer awareness is one of the most important aspects in the holistic approach towards treating and fighting the disease. Education on recognition of breast cancer signs and symptoms will hopefully lead to the early detection of the condition, timely treatment and higher long-term survival rates.

Women should be breast aware, commencing with self-breast examination on a monthly basis. Moreover, it is equally important to understand risk factors related to breast cancer, which include age and family history. It is unfortunate that not enough women worldwide are aware of the importance of lifestyle choices for their breast health and associated risk factors, such as excess alcohol, smoking and obesity.

A growing body of evidence points to the link between healthy lifestyle choices and a lower risk of developing breast cancer. Therefore, being active, eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding weight gain are three simple but crucial lifestyle choices that can positively impact the future of a woman’s breast health.

Air quality has also been linked to a number of health problems and may have significant negative effects on our health. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified outdoor air pollution as a cancer-causing agent (carcinogen). A recent ground-breaking study by top researchers in the field suggests that air pollution may place women at risk of breast cancer. Their findings show that the incidence of breast cancer was higher in areas with elevated air pollution levels.

Air pollution remains a detrimental public health problem. For this reason, I implore our authorities to take strong measures aimed at the better regulation of air quality. In fact, such action requires leadership and action at both national and international levels. Hence, we need to introduce measures to reduce air pollution to levels within EU limits in order to safeguard our population’s health and well-being. I will do all I can to help reach these objectives especially through my work in the ENVI committee which discusses and debates issues related to public health and the environment.

Prevention through European policy, aims to reduce the incidence of cancer by tackling the major determinants of the disease or by early detection through population-wide screening. Such regular and systematic examinations can detect the disease at a point in time when it is more responsive to less aggressive treatment. However, fewer than half of the minimum number of the European Commission’s recommended examinations are taking place across all EU Member States.

We should not be afraid of mentioning or dealing with the word ‘cancer’. Failing to meet the needs of survivors will prevent us from delivering improved outcomes that must be central to our governments’ focus for the National Health system and social care. By commissioning and providing the right supportive care, based on needs and not solely on diagnosis, we can improve survival rates, quality of life and patients’ overall experience. This must be achieved in a sustainable and cost-effective manner so as to ensure this service is provided to future generations. Evidence must be gathered from survivors of breast cancer to record services that they used.

This will lead Member States to improve their cancer survival rates whilst ensuring that all patients are offered a package that includes advice, educational information, support and continuity of care. Yet, this will only happen if the authorities together with all relevant entities and organisations work together to better understand patients’ needs so as to improve outcomes as well as personalised care.

Studies from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have shown that a third of all (approximately 165,000 each year) breast cancer cases in Europe can be prevented. Therefore, Breast Cancer could be defeated! We are duty bound to empower our citizens to make healthy lifestyle choices since this is a necessity for improved breast health. No matter what your underlying risk of breast cancer is, a healthy lifestyle and being breast aware are crucial choices.

The options for raising awareness on breast care are infinite and much more can be done on a regional level, national level as well on a European level. The unmet needs of patients must be addressed properly paired with the correct policy framework. May we ultimately arrive at a point where we manage to beat breast cancer.