Northern Ireland

Breast cancer: 'Dramatic rise' in diagnoses of NI cases over last 20 years

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Media captionThe number of women being treated for breast cancer in Northern Ireland has increased by 53% overall in the last 20 years

New figures from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry show there has been a dramatic rise in the numbers of women being diagnosed with breast cancer.

They show that there has been an overall increase of 53% in the number of women being treated for the disease in the last 20 years.

The rise was described as dramatic by Royal Victoria Hospital statisticians.

Dr Anna Gavin, who led the research, said the health system needs to prepare itself as the figures are set to climb.

"I think the services need to gear themselves up because we have done some work looking at past trends," Dr Gavin said.

"We see that, in total, the cancer number is expected to increase by two thirds again, about 65% in 20 years.

"The service needs to be aware of that. We need to be thinking of ways to cope because it is largely driven by the aging population."

Image caption Dr Anna Gavin said rise in breast cancer cases was the largely driven by Northern Ireland's aging population

Meanwhile, one woman who is living with the disease is calling for greater awareness of inflammatory breast cancer.

Lynette McHendry, from County Antrim, is due to have both breasts removed next week.

'Undetected'

The 37-year-old patient said she believed some inflammatory breast cancer cases are being misdiagnosed.

The mother of two is appealing to clinicians to become more aware of the symptoms surrounding this aggressive disease, after her cancer went undetected for over a month.

"The symptoms I had were a pain in my left breast - it was hard, tender and heavy," Mrs McHendry said.

"It started to swell up and ended up twice the size. It also became red, inflamed and the skin became dimply. And there was no lump."

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Media captionCancer patient Lynette McHendry, who is due to have both breasts removed next week, is calling for greater awareness of inflammatory breast cancer

She is in the unusual position of having invasive or regular cancer in one breast and inflammatory cancer in the other.

The latter went undetected because, in cases of inflammatory breast cancer, a lump does not appear in the mammogram.

Mrs McHendry is one of the almost 2,800 women who were referred last year to the Belfast Cancer centre.

Ninety-three percent of those cases were not malignant - but hers was.

Mrs McHendry said that although women are better educated about breast cancer, there is little or no public information about inflammatory breast cancer.

"I had to join a support group online based in England," she said.

"By talking to those women, including one woman from Larne, I discovered so many weren't diagnosed until much later in their cancer journey, which can make a difference between being diagnosed at stage 3 or stage 4."

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