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Primary prevention is the answer

Media release - 26/7/06


Mastectomy rates jump 44 per cent in fifteen years

Unpublished government data, obtained by the No More Breast Cancer campaign, show a dramatic rise in the number of women suffering the ordeal of total amputation of one or both breasts. The No More Breast Cancer campaign is today calling for much greater efforts to prevent breast cancer from occurring in the first place.

The mastectomy figures cast a dark shadow over the ‘good news story’ that death rates from breast cancer are going down, and call into question beliefs that treatment is now more benign.

All age-groups are affected by the mastectomy figures, but most disturbingly, the upward trend is just as drastic in women aged 15 to 44 years old, at 41 per cent. ‘This is evidence that breast cancer incidence is rising in all age groups, and is not just a disease of ageing’, says Clare Dimmer of the No More Breast Cancer campaign, herself a veteran breast cancer patient.

‘We are regularly told that breast cancer is solely due to certain risk factors: age, genetic inheritance, early puberty, late menopause, and to lifestyle choices in our control, such as late-age or no pregnancy, or excessive alcohol,’ says Ms Dimmer. ‘In fact fewer than 50 per cent of breast cancer cases can be explained by these risks, and many are due to ‘unknown factors.’

‘The government must act urgently on pollutants. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in our food and in consumer products are suspected to contribute to breast cancer. Over a third of the food we buy is contaminated with pesticide residues, for example. The current regulation of chemicals in cosmetics and consumer products is still extremely poor.’

The No More Breast Cancer campaign is conducting an opinion survey about breast cancer prevention of 150 top breast cancer surgeons and specialists, who have gathered in Winchester, Hampshire today for a major surgical training event. ‘Much as we welcome improvements in the treatment of breast cancer, and surgical advances, the gains they represent are cancelled out by the malign effect of the increasing incidence of the disease’, says Alison Craig of the Campaign. ‘Overall it is maiming and killing more and more women.’

Contact Clare Dimmer, Alison Craig or Gwynne Wallis at


1. The No More Breast Cancer campaign has obtained unpublished data on mastectomies since records began, to date, from the Hospital Episode Statistics team (England) and its equivalent in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Mastectomy rates in England and Wales between 1990 and 2005 have increased 44 per cent overall, and 41 per cent for the 15-44 year age-group. These figures are adjusted for population growth from Office for National Statistics data. Total excisions are included; partial breast removal operations and prophylactic mastectomies are not included. Full data available.

2. The Winchester Masterclass in Oncoplastic Breast Surgery is being held at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital today, 22nd November and tomorrow 23rd November,

3. Breast cancer is diagnosed in 43,760 women a year in the UK, and its incidence is increasing. It has risen 81 per cent in England from 1971 to 2004 (latest data).

4. Neither the government, nor any of the mainstream cancer or breast cancer charities (Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Campaign, Breast Cancer Care, Cancer Backup, Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie) publish on their websites statistics on how many women have mastectomies due to breast cancer.

5. Professor Sir Richard Peto, considered Britain’s foremost cancer epidemiologist, of the University of Oxford, was quoted in The Independent on 29th September 2006, as saying: ‘We have got the best decrease in breast cancer mortality in the world. By 2010, the death rates in middle age will be half what they were in 1990. It is the most spectacular advance. That is the real story.’ What was omitted was the number of women who will only survive the disease by having their breasts amputated.

6. Many more women die of breast cancer than is indicated in government statistics, which define ‘survival’ as five-year survival. This is not appropriate for breast cancer which can return, sometimes fatally, 20 years or more after first diagnosis. Only 64 per cent of women who get breast cancer are likely to survive for at least 20 years

7. The ‘all clear’ given to Kylie Minogue, for example, must be in question, given the known longevity of the risk.

8. Another concern is continuing wide variation across the UK in the surgical treatment of breast cancer. The No More Breast Cancer campaign welcomes work undertaken in the most recent audit, the Breast Cancer Clinical Outcome Measures (BCCOM) project, funded by Breakthrough Breast Cancer, which indicates that mastectomy rates, by surgeon, vary from 19 to 92%

9. The No More Breast Cancer campaign is a campaign of Breast Cancer UK. The Independent ran our campaign advertisement several times during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October Our advertisement was supported by: the Cancer Prevention and Education Society, Green Party, Health & Environment Alliance, Scottish Breast Cancer Campaign, Soil Association, UK Public Health Association, Unison,Women in Europe for a Common Future, Women’s Environmental Network, Women’s Environmental Network, Scotland, and WWF (Worldwide Fund for Nature), see



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Reg. address: Breast Cancer UK Ltd, Solva, Southwick Road, Denmead, Waterlooville, Hants. PO7 6LA UK | last updated: 05/10/2006