Breast cancer awareness: Changes you need to look out for

A Breast Aware app shows women signs and symptoms to act on immediately

In Ireland an average of 40,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed every year – the disease affects all of us. Recent figures show that one in nine women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, resulting in almost 700 deaths every year.

There are more than 3,100 new cases diagnosed every year in this country. Although these are frightening statistics, survival rates are increasing and there are ways to spot the symptoms and seek help, because early detection is crucial.

In order to raise awareness about the need to be breast aware, Breast Cancer Ireland have distributed pink bootlaces to more than 1,300 members of the Women’s Gaelic Players Association playing intercounty football and camogie.

Tipperary football captain Samantha Lambert lost a good friend and teammate, Rachel Kenneally, to breast cancer in March 2018. "I am proud to support this initiative, which encourages women to check themselves regularly and to know what to look out for," she says. "This cause is very close to my heart and so I am encouraging all my team-mates to download Breast Cancer Ireland's free Breast Aware app, which shows the signs and symptoms to look out for."

Aoibhe Dillon, a third-year arts student at Maynooth college, also has personal reasons for supporting the campaign, as both her mother and aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer in recent years. The Dublin camogie player was shocked when her mother, Frances Gaynor (54), was diagnosed in 2015 with ER-positive breast cancer. Thankfully, the treatment, which involved surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone tablets was successful, but Aoibhe knows how important early intervention is.

“My mam, Fran, has always been a very healthy and active woman,” says the 20-year-old, who hopes to become a primary school teacher. “She played tennis regularly and was always out walking on the beach or going for a hike. She discovered a lump in her breast in June 2015 and went to see her GP about it within three days or so.”

Battery of tests

This swift action meant Aoibhe's mother was seen quickly by experts and began the treatment that would eradicate all traces of the disease. "Beaumont Breast Centre gave Mam an appointment within a week and there the doctors carried out examinations, a mammogram and a biopsy all on the same day," says Aoibhe, who lives in Portmarnock with her mother and sister, Catriona (22). "It took about two or three weeks to get the results, which showed that it was breast cancer. And then further tests were carried out a week or so later to establish if it had spread to the lymph nodes.

“Mam says the wait was probably the scariest part of the ordeal. But the good news was that it hadn’t spread. She had a lumpectomy in July and a further one in August. Then an oncotype test [which determines how likely it is that cancer will return] was carried out in the US, which showed the cancer had a medium chance of recurring. So to be safe, chemotherapy was arranged for an eight-week period followed by radiotherapy for a further five weeks.

"It was tough, but Mam can't praise the staff of Beaumont Hospital enough – they were fabulous during all of this. She returned to work in February 2016 and has thankfully been living a full and active life since and still regularly plays tennis."

Not knowing

While this personal experience of cancer seriously affected Aoibhe, it also made her acutely aware of the importance of good breast health. “When I was told of Mam’s diagnosis I was just overcome with shock,” she admits. “It was very scary, and I was only 15 at the time. The not knowing of what was going to happen was particularly frightening but we just took it day by day and we consider ourselves very lucky to have caught it early.

“Our family and friends were so supportive, cooking dinners, giving lifts whenever they were needed and generally just being there for us – the support throughout the whole experience was just incredible. I also thought Mam’s attitude was phenomenal. I don’t know where she found the strength to take everything as it came and just get through it, but she did.

“So the Breast Cancer Ireland Players in Pink initiative is really important to me because prior to my mother’s diagnosis, breast cancer was not something I would have ever thought about, let alone worried about, but now I know it is so important to be really aware of it. We find ourselves so lucky to have caught it very early and think it is so important for all women – young and old – to know what they should be looking for and how to look out for it. Also it’s crucial to know that it can affect anyone, no matter how healthy and fit you are. It’s so important to check. And so I would encourage anyone who finds anything unusual to go and see their doctor as soon as possible.”

Aisling Hurley, chief executive of Breast Cancer Ireland, says the new initiative is crucial. "Encouraging women to know what is normal is so important so that when an abnormality arises it can be acted upon quickly," she says. "And initiatives such as Players in Pink are really vital in driving conversations about good breast health in Ireland."

To make a €4 donation to Breast Cancer Ireland, text CURE to 50300


– A change in size or shape; it may be that one breast has become larger
– Changes in the nipple – in direction or shape, pulled in or flattened nipple changes on or around the nipple
– Rash, flaky or crusted skin changes in the skin – dimpling, puckering or redness "orange peel" appearance of the skin caused by unusually enlarged pores swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone
– One breast unusually lower than the other, with nipples at different levels
– An enlargement of the glands
– A lump, any size, or thickening in your breast
– Constant pain in one part of your breast or armpit


– The risk of breast cancer increases with age.
– 15% of women diagnosed are aged 20-40
– 49% of women diagnosed are aged 45-65
– 36% of women diagnosed are older than 65
– The numbers of breast cancer survivors is increasing, with 85% of those with a breast cancer diagnosis now living five years and beyond.
– Mortality rates have fallen 2%
– Only 5%-10% of breast cancer cases are hereditary
– The risks of developing breast cancer can be reduced with a healthy diet, exercise, reduction of alcohol consumption and quitting smoking.

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