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Relatives ‘should get free breast cancer screening’

Helen Muscat, left, and Esther Sant founded Action for Breast Cancer Foundation. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Helen Muscat, left, and Esther Sant founded Action for Breast Cancer Foundation. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Women whose first-degree relatives, like their mother or sister, had breast cancer should be given free screening for the disease, according to a lobby group.

“These women are at risk. They are already living in fear that they might have breast cancer, so they should be entitled to free screening,” said Esther Sant, from the Action for Breast Cancer Foundation.

We worry about the 30 per cent not getting screened

The hereditary aspect of breast cancer was in the international spotlight when, a few days ago, Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie announced she had both breasts removed as a precaution.

She opted for the double mastectomy after finding out that she had a gene mutation that leads to a sharply higher risk of breast cancer.

The 37-year-old, known for her beauty and femininity, tested for the gene because her mother died from the disease.

The chances of women having breast cancer increase if they have a close relative who had breast or ovarian cancer under the age of 40, or two close relatives who had breast or ovarian cancer, or a man in the family who had breast cancer.

At the moment, the national breast screening programme covers women between 50 and 60.

Health Minister Godfrey Farrugia recently announced that he planned to extend the screening for women over 60, something that the foundation is also lobbying for.

It feels that women should be screened every two years and not every three and is happy that the minister hinted at this change recently.

Over recent years, Ms Sant, 40, and her friend Helen Muscat, 57, have noticed that breast cancer seems to be increasing.

Both know what it means to have breast cancer and Ms Muscat is still fighting the disease that has been part of her life for eight years.

Their work in the foundation has brought them into contact with many women, some hopeful as they try out new drugs and therapies but some are told that none of the existing drugs will work in their case.

For this reason, the foundation is focusing its energy on raising funds for research.

The money to be collected through a marathon organised by the Alive Foundation, planned for summer, will go towards sponsoring a PhD student researching breast cancer at the University.

“We can’t just look at warning people and telling them to be aware. We have to look at why this is happening because it’s increasing so the foundation will be focusing on research and different methods of detecting cancer,” said Ms Muscat.

The foundation is working to raise awareness among medical professionals about the importance of being sensitive when breaking news and dealing with cancer patients.

Since the national breast screening programme started, in 2009, about 36,000 women were invited to get screened. The acceptance rate was of between 60 and 70 per cent, Ms Sant said.

“We worry about the other 30 per cent who are not getting screened and we want to go out there to encourage them to accept the invitation,” Ms Sant said.

Ms Muscat added: “We need to increase human contact and, perhaps, look at changing the very technical, official letter sent to these women. It can be very off-putting.”

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