All time high in breast cancer diagnoses

Aoife O'Brien

The number of women diagnosed with breast cancer has reached a record high in Ireland according to new figures from BreastCheck. However, the survival rate still falls far behind other Western countries including America and the UK.

Latest statistics from Ireland’s national screening service show 1,067 women were diagnosed with the illness in 2017. This is a 10 per cent increase in diagnosis from the previous year.

The 2017/18 report revealed that 165,581 women attended their BreastCheck clinics, up from 139,839 from the 2016/17 report. Although more women availed of the BreastCheck service the overall take-up rate was down from 75.1 per cent in 2016/17 to 73.8 per cent in 2017/18. This means that thousands of eligible women are still not availing of the free service.

Currently, in Ireland, women between the ages of 50 and 67 are eligible breast check screening every two years. However, approximately 63,000 of these women decided not to get screened, having a huge impact on early detection and survival rates.

According to the latest figures from the World Cancer Research Fund, Ireland has the 11th highest rate of breast cancer diagnoses per 100,000 of the population, yet we are only ranked 19th in the number of survivors of the diagnosis.

The National Healthcare Quality Reporting System Annual Report 2019 reported that the national average survival rate from the disease was 85 per cent. This is in comparison to a 99 per cent survival rate in America according to the American Cancer Society and a 96 per cent survival rate in England and Wales.

Despite the fact that the risk of Breast Cancer increases with age, up-take for the screening service drops drastically above the age of 54.

While there was a 74.4 per cent up-take for women in the 50-54 age category, this dropped to 32.1 for the 55-59 year-olds. This fell again to 25.7 per cent for 60-64 year-olds and 20 per cent for the over 65’s greatly reducing their chances of detecting potential breast cancer at an early stage. However, with almost 25 per cent of breast cancer diagnoses occurring in women under age 50 many people are now looking for the eligible age for screening to be lowered.

According to Breast Cancer Ireland there are 3100 new cases of breast cancer diagnosis in Ireland each year. This means almost two thirds of cancer diagnosis in Ireland are not detected through the free screening service and as a result are less likely to be detected in an early stage lowering the chance of survival.

24-year-old Dublin based influencer Carly Mahady has become one of the advocates for lowering the age for breast check after she was diagnosed with a rare form of the disease last August.

“I don’t know who decided cervical cancer doesn’t exist before 25 and breast cancer doesn’t exist before the age of 50, this makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever,” Mahady said. She has now set up a petition to try and convince the government to lower the BreastCheck age. The petition has received over 19,000 signatures in only two weeks.

Despite this the focus of BreastCheck is still on extending the service to women over age 66 with screening expected to be offered to women up to age 69 by 2021.

BreastCheck’s clinical director Ann O’Doherty said in the annual report “this is an important development for the programme,”

“The aim of BreastCheck is to reduce deaths from breast cancer by finding and treating the disease at the earliest possible stage,” she added. However, location may be the most important factor for BreastCheck to take into consideration when lowering the mortality rate for Breast cancer in Ireland.

Despite the fact that women in Sligo, Roscommon and Galway have the highest take-up rate for BreastCheck screening the survival rate is the lowest in the west of Ireland at only 80 per cent – 5 per cent lower than the national average.

Aoife O’Brien

Image Credit: WikiMedia