RSVP Magazine

Majority of Irish women do not know about metastatic breast cancer, Do You?

A new report entitled A Story Half Told, which looks at the extent of misconceptions around metastatic breast cancer (mBC), was launched during the week by a group of leading experts in Dublin. New survey results outlined in the report reveal that 95 per cent of women in Ireland believe breast cancer can be cured if it’s caught and treated early1

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However, early detection does not help survival for metastatic breast cancer patients – average survival for women with metastatic breast cancer is 2-3 years.2

The first of its kind survey was commissioned aims to highlight the extent of misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding the most advanced stage of breast cancer, and the need to widen the conversation around breast cancer in Ireland to include metastatic breast cancer.

The new results show that a quarter of Irish women have not heard of metastatic breast cancer, despite the fact that general familiarity with breast cancer is high in Ireland (49%) compared to kidney cancer (14%), prostate cancer (25%) and pancreatic cancer (17%).1

Almost 1 in 4 (24%) have heard of mBC but don’t know what it means.16 in 10 Irish women think breast cancer receives a lot of public attention– but well over half (70%) say metastatic breast cancer receives little to no attention.1

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According to Professor John Crown, Consultant Medical Oncologist at St Vincent’s University Hospital Dublin: 

“Metastatic breast cancer is a common, treatable, life- threatening, life-limiting illness. The needs of patients with metastatic breast cancer are distinct from those of patients with early stage breast cancer. Improved treatment is resulting in longer survival and improve quality of life. The healthcare system needs to do more to improve outcomes for patients with metastatic breast cancer.” 

Metastatic breast cancer is the most advanced stage of breast cancer, in which the disease has spread beyond the breast to other organs in the body6. Despite advances in the treatment of breast cancer, approximately 30% of women initially diagnosed with earlier stages of breast cancer eventually develop recurrent advanced or metastatic breast cancer3.

Early detection does not help survival for metastatic breast cancer patients and average survival is only 2-3 years – although many women can live for much longer3.

“As many as 1,500 to 2,000 people in Ireland are living with mBC at any one time,” said Tara Byrne of Europa Donna Ireland. “Europa Donna Ireland welcomes Pfizer’s A Story Half Told survey, which we hope will play an important part in encouraging a widespread conversation about mBC.

“The experiences and knowledge of those living with mBC are rarely spoken about. This is a situation that compounds the sense of isolation and hopelessness felt by many.  Europa Donna Ireland want to build a safe community where people with mBC can connect with each other to find support and share experiences.”

According to Naomi Fitzgibbon of the Irish Cancer Society: “A Story Half Told is important because it raises awareness of the vital issues and misconceptions that women with mBC experience, which match with what women with advanced breast cancer tell us though the Cancer Support Services at the Irish Cancer Society.

“Our hope for the future is that no woman living with mBC will feel isolated, unsupported or lacking in knowledge about their disease. For this to happen the Irish Cancer Society will continue to deliver vital emotional and psychological support, develop tailored information, and conduct research into novel initiatives to address the unmet needs of women with mBC, collaborating with mBC patient representatives and key stakeholders nationally and internationally.” 

“The Marie Keating Foundation is very aware of the unmet needs of women with mBC in Ireland and will take on board findings from the recent global decade report to ensure that women and their families understand the true meaning of mBC,” said Helen Forristal of the Marie Keating Foundation. “We will be instrumental in supporting the physical, psychological and financial burdens of those with mBC and their families, and support them through our positive living programmes throughout Ireland.”

Mr. Paul Reid, Managing Director, Pfizer Healthcare Ireland said, “Over the last few decades there has been significant progress and awareness of the needs of breast cancer patients and we now need to elevate the needs of metastatic breast cancer patients. A Story Half Told comes at a time when, globally, leading members of the breast cancer community are acknowledging that progress in metastatic breast cancer has not nearly kept pace with the evolution witnessed in managing early breast cancer.

“Along with our support group partners, we believe that we can do more to educate about the current gaps in conversations about metastatic breast cancer.  Through our ongoing work, we hope to address the challenges that continue to exist in the metastatic breast cancer landscape.”

According to the National Cancer Registry of Ireland there are almost 30,000 women living with breast cancer in Ireland4.

The incidence of female breast cancer in Ireland is 12.5% higher than the EU average5, with over 2800 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year4. Irish mortality rates are the 3rd highest in the EU5, with over 710 Irish women dying from breast cancer each year4.

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