Debate on the Future of Breast Cancer (Oct 2018)
In October, I spoke in a Parliamentary debate on the future of Breast Cancer. When I started as a medical student, the five-year survival rate was 53%; now, it is more than 80%. That is the journey we have made – both patients and medical staff.
In my speech, I talked about what took me into breast cancer surgery – my first job on qualifying as a doctor was in a breast cancer unit and I learned so much from the patients on the ward, such as how they hated people undressing them and not covering them up while starting to talk about them, and people talking over their heads.
Back then, diagnosis was done at surgery – they took out the lump; it went to the lab; and, if required, the woman had a mastectomy. No breast care nurse, no pre-operative diagnosis, no discussion and no plan.
There were no women surgeons in Scotland at that time and I remember one of my professors saying, “You should do breast surgery.” I thought it was a bit clichéd for a woman surgeon to do breast surgery, but I looked at my three years’ experience in breast units and I thought that the experience of those women was so awful that I could not do anything other than make it better.
And now the process has been transformed that. By the mid-1980s, we were able to diagnose it at a clinic and, having done a lot of work looking at the impact of mastectomy on women, we started to offer reconstruction; and, eventually, moved on from mastectomy to preserving the breast when we could.
I also spoke about the kind of support we give to women diagnosed with breast cancer, the drugs used to treat it, and future treatments and challenges. There is no magic wand that will get rid of breast cancer; it is about early diagnosis, detailed diagnosis, good surgery; and good immunology.
To read the full text of my speech, go to http://bit.ly/2QrSlto