COVID-19 impacting breast cancer services

New campaign highlights reality for patients
  • Deborah Condon

Concern has been expressed about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on breast cancer services.

According to the Marie Keating Foundation, the suspension of the BreastCheck screening service for several months has led to a "worrying backlog" and there is reduced operating capacity in medical oncology and radiology.

This will result in diagnosis and treatment delays, which will lead to poorer outcomes for patients.

The foundation has launched a new campaign aimed at highlighting the stark reality of breast cancer.

One in 10 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and every year in Ireland, around 3,300 new cases of the disease are diagnosed and sadly, over 700 people die from it.

According to Prof Janice Walshe, a consultant oncologist at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, cancer services "have been hit badly by COVID-19, with many referring to it as the forgotten C".

"Symptomatic clinics and breast cancer screening need urgent resources and prioritisation to ensure that a second casualty of the pandemic is not needless deaths from cancer due to late detection," she commented.

The new campaign, Breast Cancer Isn' Just Pink, aims to highlight the rollercoaster of emotions that people can experience when they are dealing with this disease.

"The colour pink has become synonymous with breast cancer, however many patients experience darker moments and have difficulties dealing with the stark reality of a cancer diagnosis. Some can feel alienated by the overwhelmingly positive ‘pinkness' that dominates the movement," the foundation noted.

Using a series of patient videos, the campaign aims to put the patient's voice and experience first, "where it should be", explained the foundation's CEO, Liz Yeates.

"We hope it will open up a much-needed debate on the 'colour of cancer'. Not everyone feels ‘pink' at all times, and that's okay. We know how unique each person's experience is, and we understand how difficult cancer can be. We are here to support patients at every stage, from bright to darker moments, and everything in between," she said.

Mary Bodley is a patient ambassador for the foundation and she is living with advanced breast cancer. She emphasised that every patient's journey is unique.

"We all have our colour to describe our cancer. Mine is ‘forever sea blue'. It's that feeling like sometimes you are drowning, and then sometimes that you are as free as the blue sea itself.

"My reality is that I won't be cured, but I won't let that stop me from helping others by talking about the importance of breast cancer awareness, screening, and services, which are crucial to so many families across the country, including mine," Ms Bodley said.

The Breast Cancer Isn't Just Pink video series, breast cancer information and links to support groups for every stage of a cancer journey, can be found at


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