With Australian breast cancer survival rates at an all-time high, Cancer Australia's Pink Ribbon Breakfast focused on the importance of follow-up care to ensure the 15,000 women diagnosed this year continue to live long, productive and healthy lives after treatment.
Cancer Australia CEO, Professor Helen Zorbas said "Women diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia experience among the best survival rates in the world. However, many of these women will face significant health and wellbeing challenges beyond treatment."
Despite improved prognosis, all women diagnosed with the disease face the possibility that their cancer may return. Long term follow-up is recommended after treatment to detect any cancer recurrence or a new cancer, and to help address physical and psychological issues.
"With up to a third of all cancer survivors experiencing anxiety or depression, and up to 70% reporting clinical levels of fear of their cancer returning, follow up care is not just about the cancer, it's about treating the whole person." Professor Zorbas said.
This fear is especially felt by younger women, with a recent Australian study showing those with higher levels of fear of recurrence were less likely to have mammograms, ultrasound or clinical examinations, with about one in five reporting 'a lot' or 'a great deal' of difficulty making plans for the future and life goals.
Guests at this morning's Breakfast heard about the importance of follow-up care first-hand when keynote speaker, Megan James, shared her story of being diagnosed with a second breast cancer years after her first diagnosis.
"After my first diagnosis I thought I had done everything right, and although my yearly tests were very frightening, I knew how important it was to still have them." Megan James said.
"Thank goodness I continued with my follow-up care, as my second diagnosis was picked up 16 years later in a mammogram, even though there was no lump I could see or feel. The fact that it was picked up at an early stage gives me the best chance of a positive outcome."
"As part of my follow-up care I saw both my specialist and GP who not only helped me with my physical recovery, but were also there to assist me with the emotional burden the diagnosis and treatment were placing on me and my family."
Cancer Australia has developed a number of resources for health professionals, to view or download canceraustralia.gov.au/followupcare