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Why aren't we up in arms?

Blogpost by Clare Dimmer, Chair, Breast Cancer UK

25.06.2013 |Breast Cancer UK

I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39 in 1994. Since then, I’ve endeavored to live a full and active life whilst struggling with the disease, but it has often been grueling.

When I was diagnosed, breast cancer affected 1 in 12 women. Since then, this figure has dramatically increased. Today, as many as 1 in 8 women in the UK will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives.  More and more of them are younger women; a fifth (around 10,000) will be under the age of 50.  This, to my mind, is an appalling and very sad state of affairs.

Last week, Macmillan Cancer Support announced that, by 2020, every other person in the UK will suffer from some form of cancer during their lifetime. The response to this news has generally been one of acceptance, as though cancer is a necessary payback for 21st century living. We’re facing a pandemic of life-threatening disease by 2020. Shouldn’t we all be up in arms, demanding answers as to why so many more of us are getting cancer?

It’s clear that our genetics and lifestyle choices aren’t the only reason behind this shocking rise in cancer rates. Breast cancer has increased by a whopping 90% since records began in 1971 – exactly the same era that has also seen a massive explosion in the use of Government approved hazardous chemicals.  Yet little or no effort has been made to prevent breast cancer by reducing our exposure to chemicals that have been scientifically linked to the disease.

Breast cancer is estimated to cost the country as a whole £1.5 billion annually and the NHS is already beginning to implode under the strain of treating so many of us. If the predictions made in 2008 by a top Government advisor, Professor Karol Sikora, are correct, the cost of treating cancer will rise to around £50 billion within the next decade, which would probably sink the NHS.

The fact that we’re sleepwalking towards a future in which every other citizen in the UK is expected to suffer cancer is both tragic and utterly unacceptable. Surely, doing all we can to prevent breast cancer occurring in the first place would be a far more ethical and economically viable alternative to the present approach of purely screening, diagnosing, and treating it?

We need to push the Government to identify and address all of the reasons why cancer rates are spiraling out of control. For it to continue to ignore our routine exposure to carcinogenic or hormone disrupting chemicals as a risk factor for breast cancer and other diseases would not only be unbelievably callous, but also staggeringly uneconomic.

Clare Dimmer, Chair, Breast Cancer UK

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