Thanks to the success of awareness campaigns over the past decade, a diagnosis of breast cancer is no longer the death sentence it would have appeared to our parents and grandparents. In fact this is a cancer from which the vast majority of women – 85 per cent - will recover and go on to resume normal lives. And if the cancer is picked up at an early stage during a screening that statistic is even higher.
Cancer is therefore not an illness that we should avoid thinking about because we’re afraid, but a disease which we should prepare ourselves to face and defeat.
We should all talk openly about breast cancer, particularly with our families. We now know that there is a link between breast cancer and the genes we inherit from our parents. If a woman carries the faulty BRCA 1 or 2 gene it raises the risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
My grandmother, who died from ovarian cancer, had this gene and many of the women in my family (including mom) have been tested for it. Angelina Jolie, whose mother and grandmother died from breast cancer, had a mastectomy after finding she had also inherited it.
We can also take better care of ourselves. We should stop smoking, eat well and exercise all of which reduce the risk of disease, including breast cancer. Research has shown that people from a more deprived background are more likely to die from the disease. It is therefore crucial to ensure that women take up these appointments. It’s our responsibility to ensure that we attend screenings and look after ourselves. Because being screened for breast cancer shouldn’t be a worrying, stressful demand on a woman’s life; it should be as routine as cutting hair or brushing teeth.