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Majority of Women Survive Breast Cancer, British Survey Finds Disease Awareness Increasing (dateline October 21, 2001)

According to a British survey, 70% of women diagnosed with breast cancer survive the disease. A study of British women also found that more women are discussing breast cancer with their mothers and doctors, helping to improve awareness about the importance of early breast cancer detection and treatment. Yet despite the increased discussion about breast cancer, more than a third of the women surveyed said they still feel uncomfortable talking about the disease. Discussing breast cancer openly can help women act quickly if they notice changes in their breasts, thereby increasing their chances of surviving breast cancer.

The Cancer Research Campaign and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund decided to commission a survey on breast cancer discussions to determine whether Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October) truly draws attention to the disease. The results indicate that it does. The survey consisted of 295 British women between the ages of 20 and 35 and 216 British women between the ages of 50 and 65. According to Jane Wardle, Head of Imperial Cancer Research Fund’s Health Behavior Unit, the "survey shows that breast cancer is now talked about more openly, and hopefully, if a woman notices changes in her breasts she would know to seek help quickly from her GP (general practitioner)."

The survey also revealed that women are talking about breast cancer at a younger age than in the past. According to the charities, the majority of British girls first learn about breast cancer between the ages of 10 and 19, which is approximately 10 years earlier than when their mothers learned about the disease.

The women surveyed by the charities revealed that most common sources of information about breast cancer are:

  1. Doctors
  2. Information leaflets
  3. Television
  4. Mothers

"Seven out of 10 women are now successfully treated for breast cancer," said Lesley Walker, Director of Cancer Information for The Cancer Research Campaign, in the charity’s press release. "Our scientists are making progress towards improving this survival figure even further, and this survey suggests we can count on women to help us."

However, the survey also revealed that 38% of women between the ages of 20 and 35 do not feel comfortable talking about breast cancer. A third of the young women surveyed reported that their mothers did not ever discuss the disease with them. Still, the number of breast cancer discussions between mother and daughter appears to be increasing with younger generations. Of the women between the ages of 50 and 65, 64% reported never having talked about breast cancer with their mothers.

"The bond between a parent and a daughter can be very strong, and mums can be a valuable source of guidance and information," said Ms. Wardle in a Cancer Research Campaign press release. Ms. Walker of The Cancer Research Campaign also added that discussions about breast cancer will cause more women to participate in breast cancer screening.

All women 40 years of age and older should have annual mammograms to help detect breast cancer in early stages when the chances of successful treatment and survival are the greatest. For example, if breast cancer is detected when it is still confined to the milk ducts—a type called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)— the cure rate with proper treatment is close to 100%. As supplements to mammography, women 40 years of age and older should also practice monthly breast self-exams and receive yearly physician-performed clinical breast exams. While mammograms are usually necessary for women under age 40 (unless special circumstances exist), women between the ages of 20 and 39 should also practice monthly breast self-exams and receive regular physician-performed clinical breast exams.

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