CONSULTANT radiologist at Cork University Hospital (CUH), Dr Josephine Barry, says that money raised from Cork Pink Week for the Breast Cancer Care Unit at the hospital, will go towards high resolution mammogram interpretation monitors and software that will improve ability to evaluate mammograms.
“This equipment will allow us to detect more breast cancers or to give reassurance when women’s mammogram findings are benign. The funding will also allow us to buy specialised patient comfort chairs that will support our patients during their mammogram procedure. These will be particularly helpful if patients have difficulty standing or are unsteady on their feet,” said Dr Barry.
CUH is the Regional Cancer Centre. In the hospital’s Symptomatic Breast Unit, women — and men — with breast symptoms are seen from all of Cork and Kerry. Patients also come from west Waterford, south Tipperary and south and west Limerick.
“In the unit, all patients are examined by a specialist breast surgeon. The majority of patients have either a mammogram or breast ultrasound on the same day. Fortunately, we are able to reassure most of our patients that they do not have breast cancer.
“For those who do have breast cancer, we offer a complete spectrum of support including dedicated breast care nursing, pre-operative assessment including breast MRI and contrast mammography, day surgery and counselling facilities.”
An increasing amount of women benefit from chemotherapy prior to their surgery.
“We are fortunate to have access to clinical trials allowing women to participate in ground-breaking newer treatments. A state-of-the-art regional radiotherapy unit is under construction on the campus and will open in 2019.”
CUH also runs busy clinics where patients who have a family history of breast cancer are assessed. Also, a plan for their ongoing imaging is formulated. All women in the region who have had breast cancer come to the unit every year for a mammogram. Some of these women will also be evaluated in the follow-up clinics.
Activity in the unit has grown dramatically over the years, Dr Barry said.
“For example, when the breast unit opened in 2009, we performed 5,290 mammograms and 7,536 breast ultrasounds. In 2017, we performed 11,040 mammograms and 14,694 breast ultrasounds.”
Dr Barry says the unit is seeing more patients for a number of reasons.
“Breast awareness by patients and their doctors plays a huge role in the increasing number of patients presenting for assessment. Women are much more likely to tell their doctor if they have breast symptoms and are keen to get any symptoms checked out.
“Patients are also increasingly aware of a breast cancer history in their family and want advice on how to minimise their own risk of breast cancer. Improving treatment and assessment of breast cancer means management has become much more complex and requires many more interactions and attendances. Thankfully, our patients are living longer and are therefore in follow-up after their cancer treatment for many years.”
All elements of breast cancer treatment; surgery, radiology, pathology, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, are improving all the time.
“One of the most significant advancements is in pre-surgery chemotherapy. This shrinks the tumour and reduces any tumour spread prior to operation.”
Funding is, says Dr Barry, “always a challenge.”
“As we see more patients, the resources to support the increased activity are very difficult to obtain. As CUH is both the Regional Cancer Care and Trauma Centre, there is a huge requirement for imaging which is growing year-on-year. The HSE has just funded digital tomography mammography (3-D mammography which improves early detection) for CUH. This equipment in conjunction with the monitors being purchased through Pink Week will result in a huge step forward in diagnosing breast cancer.”
Funding from charity has always been a vital and much appreciated requirement for health care, Dr Barry said.
“Fund-raisers often identify and support patient centre projects which make such a difference to a patient’s journey through their illness.”
She also advised all women to examine their breasts on a regular basis. The message for vigilance seems to be getting through. Some 74% of women that the unit sees notice changes in their breasts themselves.
“Women should be familiar with how their breasts feel and if they find any changes, they should draw this to the attention of their GP. If they notice any lumps, dimpling or have a bloody nipple discharge, it’s important to get checked out.
“It is also crucial that women between 50-69 years take up the free offer of a mammogram from BreastCheck, the national breast screening service.”
We’ve been hearing recently that even one glass of wine per day can contribute to developing breast cancer. What is the advice when it comes to alcohol consumption?
“Everything in moderation. Alcohol is implicated in cancer and liver disease so the advice on the amount we can drink and stay healthy is reducing all the time.
“To avoid breast cancer, women need to keep their weight under control and be physically active.”
Dr Barry points out that breast cancer is not just a disease of women.
“Men do get breast cancer and need to be aware of the changes that may indicate cancer in their breasts.”
The CUH Breast Cancer Unit is a very busy place with a large team supporting all facets of breast cancer, with large behind the scenes back-up teams including specialist pathology and radiology.
It deserves support for its life-saving work as well as being able to assure patients that they don’t have breast cancer.