Secondary breast cancer remains “forgotten” illness, says Edinburgh patient

A mother-of-one from Edinburgh who is living with secondary breast cancer is desperate to educate people about the “forgotten” illness.

Wednesday, 13th October 2021, 8:01 am
Twenty women currently living with secondary breast cancer, captured by global award-winning portrait photographer Viktorija Grigorjevaite aka Sane Seven

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Ahead of Secondary Breast Cancer awareness day today, Lisa Fleming said the public must be more aware of the signs and symptoms of this disease.

Secondary breast cancer - also known as metastatic, advanced or stage VI cancer, is a cancer that spreads beyond the breast to other parts of the body.

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On average there are about 35,000 patients in the UK currently living with this form of cancer but a new poll from YouGov shows that the country remains uninformed about this cancer.

The poll revealed that almost two-fifths (38 per cent) of the British population are ignorant about secondary breast cancer , and 21 per cent are aware of secondary breast cancer yet know nothing of the disease’s common signs/symptoms.

It showed that more than 40 per cent do not know the incidence of this form of the disease and that 11 per cent are under the impression that it is rare.

Moreover, 44 per cent of those polled think, wrongly, that young women – those aged 15-39 – have the best chance of survival and a third have no idea who lives longer after diagnosis.

Common symptoms of the disease can initially be attributed to other health conditions, such as arthritis, and a quarter of people surveyed believe that more than 25 per cent of patients with a history of primary breast cancer have initially been treated for another condition before their secondary breast cancer diagnosis.

We desperately need people to be aware of this forgotten form of breast cancer

Mrs Fleming, 38, had no previous breast cancer diagnosis, warning signs or lump when she was told she had primary and secondary breast cancer. It had already spread to the majority of her bones and swiftly spread to her brain.

She said: “We desperately need people to be aware of this forgotten form of breast cancer. We need to change the narrative, raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of this disease and in turn save lives. And that needs to happen all year round, not just on an annual awareness day.

“Primary breast cancer is well documented. Secondary breast cancer is incurable. It’s like a relative that no one really wants to speak about but without education this disease will continue to destroy the lives of so many.”

Professor of oncology at Edinburgh University and a board member of cancer charity Make 2nds Count, Professor David Cameron said the disease is complex and we need to make sure that information on secondary breast cancer is readily available.

He said: "We have made remarkable progress in the education of signs and symptoms, treating and curing primary breast cancer.

"However, secondary breast is complex, no diagnosis is the same, and no patients’ journeys are the same. Although it can be treated, and we have made much progress in more and better treatments, it still has no cure.

"We need to make sure that information on secondary breast cancer is readily available and there is more dedicated research and accessible trials."

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