Agony of the Feared `C' Word; the Revolution in Breast Cancer Care Coupled with Major Research Breakthroughs and Better Detection over the Past Two Decades Means a Diagnosis of the Disease Is No Longer the End of the Road for the Majority of Women. but Breast Cancer Remains One of the Most Terrifying Diseases to Affect Women. Health Correspondent MADELEINE BRINDLEY Examines Women's Perceptions of Breast Cancer

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``I COULDN'T speak when I was told I had breast cancer. I was so shocked, very angry - I really lost it.

``Why? What did I do wrong? Why was my life being ruined like this, why was everything so unfair?

``I was completely devastated.'' Like most women in Wales today Angela Chamberlain was acutely aware of breast cancer - her grandmother had suffered from the disease and every October the shops, the media and the world seemed to be full of breast cancer-related articles and products.

She knew the basic facts but never thought about whether the disease would affect her, not least while she was still in her early twenties.

But, while she was in her final year at Uwic studying to become a teacher, she was told she had breast cancer.

``Before I was diagnosed I never would have given it a second thought. I knew survival depended on what stage it was diagnosed at and how advanced the cancer was. If it was caught early it could be treated but if it was left longer I wasn't sure what would happen,'' the 23-year-old, who lives in Cardiff, said.

``It took a long time for me to be diagnosed so I had a long time to think about it. It was a month before I was told because they couldn't tell from the biopsy. The lump was removed before I was told.

``I prepared for the worst even though I still thought it couldn't be cancer.

``One of my first thoughts when I wastold was that I would have to leave everything and move home with my parents, which I didn't have to in the end.

``I was thinking about my survival. If I could fight it I would be fine.''

Breast cancer is the most common form of the disease in women in the UK and accounts for more than one in four cancer cases in women. It is rare in men.

Statistics state that one in nine women will develop the disease in their lifetime and it is the second most common cause of cancer death for women after lung cancer - 12,800 women died from breast cancer in the UK in 2000 and 13,000 died as a result of lung cancer.

But with the advent of improved detection and diagnostic techniques and the introduction of revolutionary new drugs such as Tamoxifen, Herceptin and Arimidex, which is still undergoing trials, the outlook for breast cancer sufferers is improving.

Survival rates for the 40,000 women diagnosed with the disease every year in the UK have increased markedly in the past decade alone and now stand at 85% at one year and 65% at five years.

But statistics and numbers alone cannot and do not take into account or disguise the trauma and worry patients experience when they are told they have breast cancer.

The preconceptions and concerns surrounding ``the C word'' still exist.

``A massive amount of women will get breast cancer but it still remains deeply shocking,'' said Tenovus oncology nurse specialist in breast cancer Gill Donovan.

``With lung cancer people who smoke know there is a chance that it will cause the disease but with breast cancer there is no rhyme or reason why it develops. It is always a shock.

``And you can never say never. If you have had bowel cancer and after five years you are all right it is very unlikely that you will ever have a problem again.

``But you can never say that with breast cancer - patients know that at any point it can come back. Women are living with that hanging over them, waiting for it to drop.

``Added to that, it also means a change of roles for women. Women have always focused on other people, their children, their family, and have never had any focus on themselves.

``They will question anything to do with their children but nothing to do with themselves. A diagnosis of breast cancer is a whole new ball game for women because it means they have to focus on themselves. …