Concern as breast cancer cases soar

THE number of women being diagnosed with breast cancer in Suffolk has risen by 46% in ten years, new figures have revealed.The latest statistics from the Eastern Cancer Registration and Information Centre show the total cases in the county have risen from 403 in 1993 to 589 in 2003.

THE number of women being diagnosed with breast cancer in Suffolk has risen by 46% in ten years, new figures have revealed.

The latest statistics from the Eastern Cancer Registration and Information Centre show the total cases in the county have risen from 403 in 1993 to 589 in 2003.

Last night, Breakthrough Breast Cancer - the charity the EADT is supporting through its Ray of Hope appeal - said the figures were concerning and emphasised the need to continue research into the disease.

Ollie Hatcher, one of the founding members of the Suffolk branch, said: “It's worrying enough to know that so many women are likely to develop breast cancer without seeing these year-on-year increases in its incidence.

“It just shows the importance of this campaign - too many people's lives are being shattered not to do something to help with the vital research required.”

The crude rate of breast cancer cases per 100,000 people has also risen in Suffolk from 123 in 1993 to 171 in 2003.

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Meanwhile, the European age standardised rate - the rate that would have been found if the population of the county had the same age composition as a hypothetical European population - has gone from 101 per 100,000 population to 132.

Dr Brian Keeble, lead director of public health for the Suffolk Public Health Network, said breast cancer was “certainly becoming more common” but added some of the reasons behind it are still not understood.

“The good news, from the work we have done, is that although the number of new cases did go up the number of deaths in Suffolk is going down,” Dr Keeble said.

“That is because more cancers are found earlier through screening and treatment is improving, particularly with the drug Tamoxifen.”

Dr Pamela Hall, deputy medical director for the Essex Strategic Health Authority, added: “The most important thing a woman can do is to be breast aware as early detection is critical.”

In Essex, there has been a 22% increase in the number of cases from 924 to 1,125 over 10 years.

The crude rate is similar to Suffolk, rising from 116 to 135, while the European age standardised rate has gone from 98 to 110.

But Dr David Greenberg, senior analyst at the Cancer Registration and Information Centre, said the figures did not show a rise in the true rate of breast cancer in the counties.

He referred to the age standardised rate, which increased much slower than the number of cases, and said that over a longer period than 10 years this had remained “pretty static”.

He said: “Obviously the total number of cases per year in Essex is much higher than that in Suffolk, but this is because of Essex having a much larger population.

“When you look at the number of cases per 100,000 population (crude rate), these are much more similar, but this gives the impression that the rate of breast cancer is higher in Suffolk, particularly in recent years.

“This apparent difference is probably occurring because the population in Suffolk is older on average (possibly due to many people retiring to Suffolk) - the rates of practically all cancers increase as people get older.

“You can see this effect by looking at the European age-standardised rates, which are more similar between Essex and Suffolk.”

Men can also have breast cancer but less often than women, with the numbers representing slightly less than 1% of cases in women.

The Ray of Hope appeal is aiming to raise £100,000 for Breakthrough to fund the vital study of breast cancer at its dedicated research centre in London as well as increasing awareness of the disease.

Since being launched in April last year, Ray of Hope has raised nearly £65,000, with generous readers' donations and fundraising events helping to push the amount towards its total.

For more information on breast cancer visit www.breakthrough.org.uk or call the free information line on 08080 100200.

n An NHS programme which screens women for signs of breast cancer saves 1,400 lives in England each year, a new report will reveal today .

The NHS Breast Screening Programme, which began in 1988, also lessens the chance of patients having to be treated with a mastectomy while, for those screened regularly, it reduces breast cancer deaths by around 35%.

The aim of the report, entitled Screening for Breast Cancer in England: Past and Future, was to review the benefits and risks associated with the screening programme and debate its effectiveness.

The researchers found that for every 14,000 women, aged between 50 and 60, who are screened by the programme three times in a 10-year period, the exposure to radiation will cause one death from breast cancer. But they concluded the benefits of the NHS programme outweighed any risks.

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