"Most women are only on the lookout for a lump, which isn't the only sign of breast cancer."
Popular British actress Meera Syal has shown her support for a new NHS campaign that helps South Asian women who at risk of breast cancer.
The ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign, which is run by Public Health England, insists that the most common form of cancer among women living in the UK is breast cancer.
On average, 41,500 women are diagnosed with the disease each year. In addition, the risk is particularly high among women over 70, where 13,500 of these women are diagnosed with breast cancer in England each year. Of this number, 5,400 women die from the disease.
In an interview with DESIblitz, Brand Ambassador Meera spoke about her decision to support the campaign:
“I feel very strongly about breast cancer, as my own mother was diagnosed with it when she was in her late 40’s,” says the actress and humanitarian.
“I love the message of the campaign and its’ aim – to raise awareness about the issue of breast cancer amongst South Asian women, specifically older women. The problem in our communities is that there is a taboo and a sense of embarrassment.
“I want to ensure that every woman in each community works together to help each other spot the signs and symptoms of breast cancer.”
The campaign estimates that one third of women over 70 years of age are likely to show symptoms of breast cancer. The problem in such cases is that the majority of women, particularly from a South Asian heritage are unlikely to notice symptoms or get them checked.
Thus the increase of cancer is significantly higher. The campaign aims to enlighten communities with a sense of urgency for women to speak out about any symptoms they may have:
“Asian women diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK have a better chance at survival when diagnosed earlier, which is why the NHS is specifically targeting this group to raise awareness of the importance of early diagnosis,” says Meera.
Meera adds that the taboo culture of serious and delicate issues within South Asian communities, particularly regarding health, stops many women from stepping forward:
“I think the lack of awareness is mostly due to a shortfall of information. Most women are only on the lookout for a lump, which isn’t the only sign of breast cancer. There are many different, lesser known but equally important signs like changes to the skin of your breast.
“I think this lack of awareness spans all communities but when it comes to the South Asian community, the difference is that it is generally not talked about. Therefore women are even more unaware.”
With such subjects about health rarely discussed among communities, much more needs to be done to raise awareness of the serious harm of breast cancer for Asian women:
“Primarily I think the first step is to encourage communication. Discussion is absolutely vital because the more the issue is talked about, the less of a taboo it is.
“The campaign is appealing to daughters and daughters-in-law, sisters and aunts to keep an eye on their mothers, aunts and grandmas, and to encourage them to talk if there’s anything wrong with their breasts, something which I completely agree with.”
‘Be Clear on Cancer’ hopes that regular conversation between daughters and their mothers can begin to combat the taboo. The earlier these problems can be discussed and symptoms diagnosed, the more lives that can be saved.
South Asian women don’t need to feel embarrassed when talking about health. As Meera explains: “I want women to be aware of the symptoms and not be too embarrassed or ashamed to discuss their fears and symptoms with both their family and their GP.
“In our community, older women are less likely to visit their doctor because they are either embarrassed, don’t know about the key symptoms or unwilling to acknowledge cancer for fear of tempting fate. I wanted to help eliminate these fears.”
So what should women look out for? As outlined by the campaign, the possible signs of breast cancer include:
- A lump in your breast or armpit
- Nipple changes
- Changes to the skin of your breast
- Changes in the shape or size of your breast
- Pain in your breast or armpit
Meera’s advice for any women who are unsure of the symptoms might have is: “I would encourage them to visit their GP immediately if they have even a shadow of concern. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Swift action can be life saving. The earlier cancer is diagnosed and treated, the higher the chance of survival.”
The ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ Campaign was piloted in the West Midlands and Gloucestershire in 2013. The government is hopeful that through early diagnosis of breast cancer among women in the UK, up to 5,000 lives can be saved each year by 2014/15.