Taking the Battle to Breast Cancer; Breast Cancer Is the Most Commonly Diagnosed Cancer in Women in Wales. Although Awareness of It Is Higher Than Ever, There Are Many Aspects to the Disease That Continue to Be Controversial, as Health Correspondent Julia McWatt Found Out

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Byline: Julia McWatt

BREAST cancer is one of the most common forms of the disease, with about 2,500 cases diagnosed in Wales every year.

Thanks to publicity campaigns, celebrity profiles and a major screening programme, the majority of people now have a heightened awareness of what signs to look out for.

Breast screening looks for breast cancer before symptoms show. If breast cancer is found at an early stage, treatment has the greatest chance of being successful. The best way of screening for breast cancer is by having regular mammograms (X-rays of the breast) as you may not be able to see or feel early changes.

Breast Test Wales screens about 100,000 women each year and has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by around 35%.

Women aged between 50-70 are identified from their GPs' lists.

Women will not necessarily get their first invitation in the year they turn 50. As long as they are registered with a doctor, they will be invited for breast screening before their 53rd birthday.

It is partly thanks to this programme that survival rates are on the increase with the number of women who die from breast cancer in Wales reducing by about a quarter over the past 15 years.

But despite this, there are still many taboos or controversies that surround the disease.

As Dr Ian Lewis, associate director of research at Tenovus, points out, one of the issues around the screening programme is only aimed at women between the ages of 50 and 70, despite Wales having an ageing population and the risk of breast cancer increasing as women get older.

He said: "While the incidence of breast cancer continues to increase year on year, survival rates are also continuing to improve thanks to earlier detection, improved treatments and new therapies.

"A large factor in this improved survival has been the Breast Cancer Screening programme which, UK-wide, is estimated to prevent around 1,300 breast cancer deaths each year.

"In Wales, all women over the age of 50 are eligible for breast cancer screening, but only women between 50 and 70 years old are invited automatically to attend a mammogram; invitations for screening stop at 70.

"One of the biggest risk factors in developing breast cancer is age; the older you are the higher your risk. Therefore, it's important that women of any age are aware of any changes in their breasts and don't delay in telling their doctor if they are concerned, whatever their age.

"The changes may be caused by something perfectly harmless, but should be checked out as they could be the first signs of a cancer."

Although breast cancer is usually associated with older women (80% of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50) it can still affect younger women, with one in eight invasive breast cancers found in women younger than 45, according to Cancer Research UK.

Breast cancer can also occur in men, although it is very rare. Cancer Research UK estimate that around 370 men are diagnosed each year in the UK - the equivalent of one man for every 130 women diagnosed. …