London women unaware of different forms of breast cancer

Women in London are unable to name a single form of breast cancer, a new survey has revealed.

According to a recent research from Cancer Research UK, breast cancer is not one disease but ten distinct diseases (classified as IntClust 1-10). Yet when given a list of various forms of breast cancer and asked which they would associate with the disease, 60% of survey participants were unfamiliar with any of the terms mentioned.

As well as this general lack of awareness about the types of breast cancer, 96% of women were unable to recognise a particularly aggressive form of the disease that is more likely to spread beyond the breast and to recur, triple negative breast cancer.

This type of breast cancer accounts for 10-20% of all invasive breast cancers and is notoriously difficult to treat. It disproportionately affects younger women as well as those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds and certain ethnic groups, such as those of African or Hispanic origin, who are more likely to suffer from the triple negative form of the disease if they are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Professor Andrew Tutt,  Professor of Oncology at King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre, Guy’s Hospital said: “Breast cancer is now recognised to be of several types and can affect women at all ages and of all ethnicities, however some are more predisposed to developing certain types of breast cancer. Women of Hispanic or African origin and women under 50 who develop breast cancer are more likely to develop the forms that are negative for female hormone receptors and the HER2 marker – so called “triple negative” breast cancers – than are other women.

“These groups of women are particularly represented in the populations of large cities like London – suggesting that more women in the capital could be at risk of this potentially aggressive form of the disease than in other areas of the country. These forms of breast cancer can be effectively treated so it is important that women know what symptoms to look out for and that they consult their GPs early should any arise.”

Triple negative breast cancer is associated with a poorer prognosis and worse outcomes than other types of breast cancer. However, increased awareness of the different types of breast cancer, especially among women who are at higher risk of the more aggressive forms of the disease, can lead to earlier diagnosis and better outcomes for patients.

Samantha Watson, Communications and Online Editor at the Afiya Trust, a national charity that works to reduce inequalities in health and social care provision for people from racialised communities said: “In light of ethnic inequalities in health and differences in cultural understandings of healthcare and life-style, it is very important that ethnicity is taken into account in the treatment of breast cancer, and that health education should be sensitively targeted to women of differing ethnic backgrounds to make it apparent that their needs can be addressed.”

Over 40,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK and approximately 10% live in London. About 10-20% of breast cancers, which is more than one out of every ten, are found to be triple negative.