Educating women about breast cancer increases their knowledge about the disease should they develop a symptom – and could help increase survival from breast cancer, new research today shows.
The Cancer Research UK-funded study*, published in the British Journal of Cancer, showed that telling women about symptoms has a lasting effect on their awareness of breast cancer and could encourage them to visit the doctor promptly if they develop symptoms.
Researchers found that a 10-minute talk with a radiographer accompanied by a booklet – increased breast cancer awareness in women around 70.
Researchers found that after two years, 21 per cent of the women who received the Promoting Early Presentation (PEP) intervention were breast cancer aware compared with six per cent of the women who received usual care.**
This is the first study to look at the effect of a one-to-one awareness-raising programme for as long as two years on.
Dr Lindsay Forbes, lead author of the study based at King’s College London, said: “This study shows that the PEP not only raises awareness in older women but also does it for a longer period of time than any other intervention of its kind.
“This is important because even in older women, it may take many years for breast cancer symptoms to develop so it’s encouraging to see that the PEP helps women maintain the knowledge to detect symptoms and see their doctor as quickly as possible.”
More than 860 women aged 67-70 years attending their last mammogram as part of the NHS Breast Screening Programme*** received either the PEP Intervention, just the booklet, or usual care.
The researchers compared the three groups’ knowledge of breast cancer symptoms, knowledge that the risk of breast cancer increases with age, and their reports of how often they checked their breasts.
The National Health Service Breast Screening Programme in England is now piloting the PEP Intervention in a number of breast screening services.
Professor Amanda Ramirez, who leads the programme of research at King’s College London to promote early presentation of cancer said: “If the pilot is successful and the scheme is rolled out across the Breast Screening Programme then we can look at whether the gains in breast cancer awareness lead to a reduction in the number of advanced breast cancer cases – and deaths – in older women no longer being routinely screened for the disease. With this approach we have the potential to avoid about 500 breast cancer deaths per year.”
Sara Hiom, director of health information, said: “A woman’s risk of breast cancer increases with age – over 80 per cent of cases occur in women over 50. So it’s vital for older women to be aware of breast cancer symptoms so they don’t delay seeing their doctor.
“These symptoms include anything that is unusual for your breasts such as a lump, changes to the nipple like a rash or discharge, or dimpling of the skin.
“The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the greater the treatment options available – and the better the chance of survival from the disease.”
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*Forbes, L, JL et al., A promoting early presentation intervention increases breast cancer awareness in older women after two years: a randomised controlled trial, BJC (2011) DOI:10.1038/bjc.2011.205
**Usual care involves standard practice in the NHS breast screening programme whereby after the final invitation for a mammogram, women receive verbal or written information telling them that they will no longer be invited for screening every three years but that they can continue to be screened on request.
***In line with the government’s cancer strategy the screening programme in England is in the process of extending their routine invitations to include women aged 47-73 years. Women aged older than this age group are encouraged to self refer. Further information on the breast screening programme is available at www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk
British Journal of Cancer