Time to change the conversation about breast cancers

Genomic profiling is set to change how breast cancers are managed, with some women requiring no treatment.

Genomic profiling is set to change how breast cancers are managed, with some women requiring no treatment

Picture: iStock

It hardly seems any time has passed since Breast Cancer Awareness Month began and ended in a flurry of pink activities: fundraising, information and daily reference in the media to breast cancer statistics. It was hard not to have been moved by the individual stories and impassioned call to action to do something.

With 56,190 women diagnosed with breast cancer and 12,000 dying annually, we all have a vested interest in seeing these figures improve. As a nurse who has spent many years working with people affected with breast cancer, I find the statistics staggering.

The recent emphasis on improving survival outcomes is welcome, but it is clear that we still have a long way to go.

The more I learn about breast cancer the more I realise it is not a single disease, yet only once have I heard reference to this in the media, when Brighton and Sussex Medical School professor of psycho oncology Dame Lesley Fallowfield used the term ‘breast cancers’ during an interview on BBC Radio Five Live.

Personalised medicine

The recognition that breast cancer is not a single disease helps to provide greater understanding about why some people survive but others do not, and some cancers recur quickly and others return many years after their initial diagnosis.

If personalised medicine is to become a reality, some difficult conversations lie ahead. Advising someone that no treatment is needed because of their genomic profiling will change the way breast cancers are managed. It will also change conversations about recurrence.

Nurses are adaptable, but they are aware that a no-treatment pathway will involve difficult conversations, and perhaps a different type of ongoing support. I am not sure this has been considered in long-term planning.

About the author


Susanne Cruickshank is chair of the RCN cancer and breast care forum

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