Plymouth breast cancer victim's plea for earlier checks
A WOMAN is calling for earlier routine breast cancer checks after her life was saved by an overheard conversation.
Donna Watts, 41, says she would have been dead had she waited for a routine mammogram at the normal age of 47.
Donna, from Cattedown, told The Herald that after feeling a strange sensation in her left breast, she noticed the nipple was bleeding.
She thought it could have been caused by friction from energetic Zumba dancing.
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But while discussing it with a work colleague, their conversation was overheard by another friend, the receptionist of Donna's GP.
She made an immediate appointment, and her doctor sent her straight to Derriford Hospital.
Although no lumps were detected, Donna had a mammogram which revealed calcification of the breast.
A biopsy showed changes, and an 8cm-long cancerous growth was found.
Fortunately it was completely contained within the breast.
Donna said: "A mastectomy was the only answer because the cancer would have spread to my lymph nodes and become invasive, and I would probably have died.
"As it was, it was caught in the early stages, but the breast had to be removed right away."
Donna's operation was on May 31 and she was released from hospital next day.
She said: "Doctors warned it could affect my balance, as I dance a lot, but now I am fine.
"I accepted what had to be done and have not had reconstructive surgery; I wanted it gone.
"If anything, the experience has made me stronger and more confident."
She added: "My husband Neil was very upset at the beginning and cried when I got the all-clear.
"I could have brushed the symptoms away and carried on and been dead now.
"My message to other women is that if they are concerned get checked as soon as possible and if they are not happy go again. I would also like to see routine mammograms brought forward to, say, the age of 43."
But according to radiology experts, it is not recommended that screening any earlier is done.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "Women who have any concerns about their health can seek advice from their GP at any time.
"The Royal College of Radiologists Breast Group recommend that screening for women aged 40-49 is not routinely done except under specific circumstances, such as increased risk of breast cancer because of family history
"By extending the programme to invite women for screening at age 47, we ensure that all women have the chance to be screened before their 50th birthday.
"There is no clinical evidence to suggest that reducing screening age further would save more lives."
Dr Rachel Greig, Senior Policy Officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer says: "The risk of women developing breast cancer increases as they get older – four out of five cases of the disease occur in women over the age of 50. At present, women under 50 are not usually invited to routine breast screening. This is because the breast tissue of younger women is denser, making it hard for screening to detect any problems and also because breast cancer is relatively rare in these women.
"The NHS Breast Screening Programme saves around 1,300 lives every year thanks to the early detection of breast cancer."
Donna had previously been planning a reunion for fellow-students in her year (1982-1987) at Southway Comprehensive, and after her operation carried on with her plan, raising £710 for Cancer Research UK.
She is also taking part in the Amazonian Project to photograph women who have had mastectomies.
And next May she will be joining in the Liskeard Relay for Life, an overnight team sponsored walk to raise money for Cancer Research UK.