The month of October is dedicated to raising breast cancer awareness, the aim is to encourage people to self- check their breasts and to seek medical advice if they suspect anything is not normal. Early detection of breast cancer saves lives. Breast cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in Ireland (Irish Cancer Society).
Breast cancer is a disease that affects thousands of women in Ireland, typically occuring in older women, many women under fifty also present with the disease, and risk increases with age. Breakdown as follows, the statistics are taken from www.breastcancerireland.com;
· 23% of women in the age group 20-50 years of age
· 34% of women in the age group 50-69 years of age
· 36% of women over 70 years of age
· Only 5% to 10% are hereditary.
Breast cancer also occurs in men but to a significantly lesser degree. According to Breast Cancer Ireland, 1 in 9 women, and 1 in 1,000 men will develop breast cancer every year, currently 3,700 people are diagnosed with breast cancer annually in Ireland. The positvie news is that survival rates are increasing; 85%, and mortality rates are decreasing by 2% annually www.breastcancerireland.com .
The Irish Cancer Society provides detailed information booklets on each type of cancer and what to expect from the various treatments, https://www.cancer.ie/about-us/cancer-resources-publications
The impact of a breast cancer diagnosis
Breast cancer is treated in cancer centres of excellence throughout Ireland; despite the advances in medical treatment and increasing positive outcomes for women, breast cancer remains a highly stresssful and traumatic experience for women due to the social and emotional impact of the disease. A women experiences shock at the diagnosis, then the reality of surgery, invasive treatment, change in body image, impact and side effects of various treatments; chemotherapy, radiotherapy and medication. “Many experience this threat to the integrity of the body as a threat to self-worth” (Ham, 2014, pg.2). The effects of the invasive treatments on the body, and the potential impact on the psychological health of the person need to be recognised.
The impact of a breast cancer diagnosis is well documented; breast cancer is a potentially life threatening disease, women on receipt of diagnosis have a fear of their own mortality (death anxiety), and there is a fear that the cancer will spread elsewhere in the body and/or reoccur (health anxiety). The patients not only have to deal with the physical impact of surgery, they have to deal with a range of side effects that accompany the treatment, and the accompanying threat of this to their femininity and body image. Many women experience loss of self-confidence, and can be vulnerable to developing anxiety, low mood and depression. In her article ‘Healing the Split between Mind and Body’ Denise Ham “argues for a better understanding of the emotional and psychological impact of a breast cancer diagnosis” (Ham, 2014, pg 1).
Support for breast cancer patients
During and following treatment, patients have to find ways to support the healing of their minds, and manage their lives with the reality of living with cancer. The National Cancer Institute suggest that all cancer patients are screened for distress early in their treatment, and re-screened if necessary at critical stages throughout their care, Psychological Stress and Cancer – National Cancer Institute. “Psychological interventions have been beneficial in decreasing patients’ distress and enhancing their quality of life” (Compas & Luecken, pg. 111, 2002). Most people experience low mood and sadness after a breast cancer diagnosis. There is support available to breast cancer patients in Ireland, emotional and psychological support is offered to patients as part of their breast cancer treatment, if is not available on site in hospitals, the patients are referred to outside resources, for example; cancer support centres. There are many cancer support centres throughout the country. for example; ARC cancer support centres and Purple House Cancer Support Centre offer a safe and supportive place for people to go to. One can drop in to meet others with cancer and they can avail of counselling, group support, reflexology, mindfullness, yoga, stress management courses and much more, for further information check out www.arccancersupport.ie/ and https://www.purplehouse.ie/ In addition The Irish Cancer Society, Marie Keating Foundation, Breast Cancer Ireland offer all kinds of support to patients, see links below to their websites.
Counselling and/or psychotherapy provides people with the space to talk to someone in a private and confidential setting. People come to therapy to explore their feelings and emotions, feelings and emotions that have arisen from their diagnosis and subsequent treatments, for example; anger, anxiety, grief, pain, loss, fatigue, social isolation, sexuality concerns and self-blame. The process can help people come to terms with their diagnosis, and develop skills to support them in their life after cancer, or their life living with cancer.
Compas, B. E. and Luecken, L. (2002). Psychological Adjustment to Breast Cancer. American Psychological Society, Vol.11, No. 3, pages 111-114.
Ham, D. (2014). Healing the Split between Mind and Body. Healthcare Counselling & Psychotherapy Journal, Vol.14, Issue 3.