Despite the advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, this condition is still the leading cause of cancer death for women. It is also the most common cancer in women, accounting for 25% of all cancers worldwide. This cancer is not only a major risk to women, but the burden on families and wider society is also incalculable. October is celebrated as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, where people from all over the world recognise the seriousness of this condition and show their support for patients affected by breast cancer. However, we should always remember the threat posed by this cancer throughout the year, and not limit the remembrance to Awareness Month only.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 700,000 died from breast cancer globally in 2020. GlobalData epidemiologists forecast that the diagnosed incident cases of invasive breast cancer in the eight major markets (8MM: US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, Japan and urban China) will grow at an annual growth rate (AGR) of 1.50% a year over the next ten years, from 900,000 cases in 2022 to 1.01 million cases in 2030. As demographic changes continue and the increase in the number of ageing populations, the burden of breast cancer cases will continue to rise. This cancer is universal and is prevalent in all countries, rich and poor. There are currently eight million women worldwide living with breast cancer who were diagnosed in the past five years. This cancer affects all age groups but is predominant in middle-aged women. Most breast cancer has no identifiable risk factors, although the risk increases for women with a genetic and family history of breast cancer.

Thanks to advancements in the field of medicine, breast cancer can be treated successfully if diagnosed early. Early diagnosis also helps prevent the aggressive surgery required for later treatment, which can be traumatic and cause disfigurement. In recent years, there has been a lot of research into diagnostics and treatment which, combined, have improved the survival rate in developed countries. For example, in the UK, an estimated 1,300 breast cancer deaths are prevented every year through cancer screening. Currently, the annual screening is only offered to women aged 50 years and over in the UK; lowering the age group for screening might be beneficial. However, this should be balanced against the economic cost, overdiagnosis of benign tumours, and increasing anxiety in women.

As people celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month worldwide, we should not forget the mental and physical impact of this cancer on patients, their families and wider society. It is imperative to continue public health awareness programmes, fund cancer research to improve the breast cancer screening/detection process, and support patients suffering from the disease.

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