Yorkshire Cancer Research is urging women in Harrogate to attend breast screening appointments following new statistics that reveal the area has the highest breast cancer incidence and mortality rates in Yorkshire.
Between 2012 and 2014, there were 176 cases of breast cancer per 100,000 women in the Harrogate and Rural District CCG – the highest rate in Yorkshire and significantly higher than the Yorkshire average of 160 cases per 100,000 women. Over the three years, 465 women in the area were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Harrogate and Rural District CCG also had the highest mortality rate for breast cancer over the three years, with 41 deaths per 100,000 women compared to the Yorkshire average of 34 deaths per 100,000 women.
Breast cancer rates tend to be higher in more affluent areas, and this is associated with preventable lifestyle risk factors such as obesity, alcohol intake and a lack of exercise. Around 27% of all breast cancers are believed to be caused by these factors.
Yorkshire Cancer Research is aiming to raise awareness of the importance of attending screening appointments and to encourage women to check for any changes in the appearance or feel of their breasts as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which runs throughout October.
- Mammograms aren’t perfect as normal breast tissue can hide a breast cancer so that it doesn’t show up on the scan – this is called a false negative.
- Mammography can identify an abnormality that looks like a cancer, but turns out to be normal – this is called a false positive.
- A false positive means more tests and follow-up visits, which can be stressful. To make up for these limitations, more than mammography is needed.
- Women also need to practice breast self-examination, get regular breast examinations by an experienced health care professional, and, in some cases, also get another form of breast imaging
Some women wonder about the risks of radiation exposure due to mammography. Modern-day mammography only involves a tiny amount of radiation — even less than a standard chest X-ray.
- Early detection of cancer saves lives, and breast cancer screening remains the best way to detect breast cancers when they are small enough to be treated successfully. Although a mammogram exposes a woman to a very small amount of radiation, the harmful effects are extremely low. Only with repeated x-rays, on a frequent basis will the risk of developing cancer increase.
- Yorkshire Cancer Research believes that the benefits of attending breast cancer screening as part of the national screening programme outweigh the potential harms that it can cause. However, it is always important for women to discuss any concerns they may have with their GP, so that they can make an informed decision”.
Breast screening is currently available through the NHS for all women aged 50 to 70, and women are invited to attend appointments every three years. Screening rates in Harrogate are above the national average, with 74.8% of women taking part in the programme. However, this means that a quarter of women are failing to go for screening when invited.
There is also a huge variation in breast screening rates across Harrogate and Rural District CCG. Data by GP practice shows that participation ranges from 67.6% to 80.9%. Three GP practices in the CCG have screening uptake rates below 70%.
Around 62% of cancers diagnosed through screening are found at stage 15. Figures show that 99% of patients with stage 1 breast cancer survive for five years following diagnosis.
Lisa Trickett, Community Health Initiatives Manager at Yorkshire Cancer Research, said:
With such high breast cancer incidence rates in the Harrogate area, it is vital that as many women as possible attend their screening appointments when invited. Screening can detect cancer before symptoms are noticeable, so it is incredibly important in catching the disease at an early stage, when treatment options and chances of a full recovery are greater.
If any women have missed their screening appointment or they are above the upper age limit of 70, they can request an appointment from their local screening centre and we would urge them to do so. If you are between screens, or too young for screening, then please check your breasts yourself and talk to a doctor straight away if you notice anything unusual.
From April 2014 to March 2015, nearly 900 women in the Harrogate and Rural District CCG were urgently referred to hospital with signs of breast cancer4.
Linda Ko Ferrigno, who has lived in Harrogate for nine years, is backing the campaign to raise awareness of the disease.
Linda, 51, was prompted to check her breasts for symptoms after a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She found a lump and after visiting her GP and being referred to hospital, she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself.
Linda underwent a lumpectomy in November 2015 followed by a three-week course of radiotherapy. She will now take cancer prevention drug Tamoxifen for five years and will also attend annual mammograms for the next five years so doctors can monitor her breasts for any signs of the cancer returning.
I know you don’t have time, or that you forget and sometimes just can’t be bothered to check your breasts. I know because that’s how I felt for the past 30 years. But it’s crucially important and it’s how my own breast cancer was picked up at an early stage. Similarly, breast cancer screening is vitally important. Yes, it’s a little inconvenient and uncomfortable, but those 15 minutes you spend at your screening appointment could save your life.
To read more of Linda’s story, please visit www.ycr.org.uk/linda
Symptoms of breast cancer include:
• A change in how your nipple looks
• A change in the size or shape of your breast
• A lump or area of thickened tissue in your breast
• A lump or swelling in your armpit
• A rash on or around your nipple
• Dimpling on the skin of your breast
• Discharge from your nipple
Breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer.
Between screening tests talk to your doctor straight away if you notice any symptoms of breast cancer.
Get to know your breasts
This will make it easier to notice any changes in how they look or feel.
• A good time to check your breasts is when you are in the bath or shower.
• Look at your breasts and feel each breast and armpit, up towards your collarbone.
• Look with your arms down by your sides and with them up in the air.
Breast screening – mammograms
An x-ray test called a ‘mammogram’ is used for breast screening. This test can find breast cancers when they are too small to see or feel.
Mammograms are carried out at special clinics or mobile breast screening units by a female member of staff. Your breasts will be x-rayed one at a time. The mammogram will then be checked for any signs of cancer.
Who can be screened?
• If you are aged 50 to 70 (or 47 to 73 in some areas) and are registered with a GP you should be sent an invitation for breast screening every three years.
• If you are aged over 70, you will stop being automatically invited for screening. You can make an appointment by contacting your local screening unit – please visit www.nhs.uk/service-search.
If you think you may have missed a breast screening, or have not been invited, contact your local screening centre to make an appointment. Make sure your doctor has your current contact details.
It is important that you keep going for breast screening during the time it is offered.