In Ireland a combination of advances in understanding cancer prevention and the risk factors for cancer, screening programmes, early detection and more effective treatment options have led to improved outcomes and survival rates. In general, finding and diagnosing a cancer at an early stage results in a better outcome for a patient.
A healthy lifestyle can prevent cancer
The National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) advises that your risk of getting cancer is greatly reduced if you have a healthy lifestyle. At least one-third of cancers can be prevented in this way. To improve your lifestyle, the NCCP advises people not to smoke and to avoid other people’s smoke, keep active, reduce alcohol intake and eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Ireland has three quality assured screening programmes run by the National Cancer Screening Service (NCSS). These are BreastCheck – The National Breast Screening Programme, CervicalCheck – The National Cervical Screening Programme and BowelScreen, the newly launched National Bowel Screening Programme. Together these quality-assured cancer screening programmes have the potential to reduce both the incidence and mortality of cancer in the screened population. However, the programmes can only reach this goal if the eligible population takes part.
Be fully informed about breast screening
BreastCheck aims to find breast cancer in women aged 50-64 at the earliest possible stage. These women are invited for a free mammogram every two years. In recent years, the numbers of women attending has been slowly dropping. BreastCheck encourages all women aged 50-64 to attend for their mammogram when invited. An appointment only takes half an hour and the vast majority of women screened are found to be perfectly healthy with less than one per cent diagnosed with breast cancer.
There has been much debate recently about the potential over-diagnosis of non-invasive breast cancer, known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) through screening. As digital mammography improves, so does the detection rate. However, it is impossible to tell which DCIS will develop into an invasive cancer and which will not. As a result, every woman who has a DCIS diagnosed is offered treatment. Instead of not attending her mammogram when invited, BreastCheck would encourage any woman who has a concern about possible over-diagnosis to contact BreastCheck on Freephone 1800 45 45 55 for more information or view a detailed information sheet online at www.breastcheck.ie.
Women aged 45+ at risk by not having a smear test
CervicalCheck became available to women aged 25-60 in September 2008. Since then almost 1.3 million smear tests have been taken and more than 805,000 women have had at least one test. One of the biggest risks for developing cervical cancer is not having a regular smear test. Worryingly CervicalCheck’s screening statistics have shown that too few women aged 45 and over are not having their smear test. A smear test is nothing to be embarrassed about. Over 800,000 women have already taken part in the programme and the test itself only takes a few minutes.
Women aged 25-44 should have a smear test every three years and women aged 45-60 should have one every five years. There are over 4,600 GPs and practice nurses nationwide who can take a smear test as part of the CervicalCheck programme. A woman can choose any registered smeartaker, she doesn’t have to go her usual family doctor (GP). Details of all smeartakers are available on www.cervicalcheck.ie or by calling Freephone 1800 45 45 55.
Screening for men
For the first time in Ireland, a cancer screening programme is available for both men and women. BowelScreen – The National Bowel Screening Programme is for men and women aged 60-69. Bowel screening is a simple test that is done in the home, every two years. The test looks for tiny amounts of blood in a bowel motion (also called a stool) that is not visible to the eye. Blood in the stool can be due to a number of causes or minor conditions. But it can also be a sign that something might be wrong.
Bowel cancer is the second most common form of cancer among men and women in Ireland. Screening aims to find bowel cancer at an early stage when it is easier to treat. Bowel screening may also find other changes in the bowel such as polyps. These are small growths that are not cancer, but if not removed they might turn into cancer. In time, the programme will be extended to men and women aged 55-74.
Being cancer aware – know the ABCs
It’s important to remember that finding cancer early can save your life. The NCCP has four warning signs that you should look out for. These are:
• Abnormal lump or swelling such as a lump in the breast, armpit, tummy or testes.
• Bleeding that is not normal, such as blood in your stool, coughing blood or blood in the urine.
• Changes in your body functions such as losing weight without trying, a change in your bowel movements or a persistent cough or hoarseness.
• Skin changes including moles that are changing or sores that won’t heal.
If you have any of these warning signs you should contact your GP (family doctor). The good news is that in most cases, these signs are not cancer. You know your own body best. So if there is anything that is not normal for you, go to your GP without delay.
For further information: Clare Manning, Communications, National Cancer Screening Service, T: 01-8659300
Note to editor:
The National Cancer Screening Service is part of the HSE National Cancer Control Programme.