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October is Breast Screening Awareness Month

Earlier this year I offered to help the Cornwall’s Mermaid Centre raise the profile about Breast Screening. I secured two articles in Cornwall’s premier magazine, Cornwall Today, thanks to the support of editor Kirsty Newton and started a campaign across the Cornwall and Devon media with the help of Mike Jarvis of Cornwall and Devon Media. I also promoted the campaign to local radio and TV using Chocolate Dog Marketing’s skills and resources as we wanted to help raise the profile of health screening and improve the take up rate of appointments. With great photography by Jonathan Jacobs and detailed information from the Mermaid Centre team, we have some compelling copy. Time will tell how we influence take up rates.

A compelling case

Few can have missed the headlines earlier this year when film actress Angelina Jolie, a beautiful woman with a much feted silhouette, took extreme preventative action to avoid breast cancer. That she spoke openly about her double mastectomy, and the family medical history that led her to volunteer for it, shone the spotlight on a disease which will affect one in eight women – with one in 100 of all new breast cancers affecting men, a statistic less talked about but no less real.

Here in Cornwall, we have a world-class breast clinic. Opened in 1998, the Mermaid Centre in Truro - part of the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust – combines excellent facilities with highly qualified and caring staff who see more than 12,000 patients every year, with around 500 being newly diagnosed and then treated for breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Mermaid staff are encouraging everyone to be screened when invited. The screening programme is designed to be an early detection measure – it can’t prevent the disease, but it can pick it up in time. Last year it identified 180 women with breast cancer – and I was one of them.

In 2012/13, the Mermaid Centre invited 24,750 to be screened; 19,522 accepted; an uptake of 76 per cent. This is good, but it could be much better. Screening is for those aged between 50 and 70, and the Mermaid Centre is currently participating in a national age extension trial which could broaden the range from 47 to 73 years.

High-Tech Trucks (Photo)

You might visit one of two high-tech trucks, costing over £1 million each, that move around the county (those living around Bude are invited to North Devon, those in Torpoint and Saltash to Derriford for ease of access). These trucks enable a team of friendly and caring radiographers to screen more than 75,000 women every three years. In October, they will visit Hayle and Helston.  Mammogram results are sent back to the Mermaid Centre for review, and if anything requires more detailed screening, you are called back.

The Mermaid Centre opened in 1998 and the team and facilities continue to grow and now number 62 permanent specialist staff including breast care nurses, surgeons, radiologists, radiographers, office and clinic staff and volunteers who help in a myriad of ways.

Every patient meets a breast care nurse who is there to provide help and support, and act as the patient advocate during what can be a very confusing time. With six breast care nurses (three are part-time) and a reconstruction nurse, they can help the patient interpret what  will happen and when.

Josephine Brand is the lead clinical nurse specialist. For Josephine, the message is clear:

“Please don’t ignore any symptoms - get checked. For those of you invited to screening, please come. I could sit and cry about those who go into denial and do nothing - the fall-out for the women, their families and friends is horrific. Please come and talk to us – we are here to help you.”

Dr Kerstin Stepp is the director of the screening programme and a specialist breast clinician:

“I believe breast screening is vital work and helps to save lives,” she says, firmly. “Screening helps diagnose pre-cancerous conditions and early stage breast cancers, when treatment is less intrusive and less severe. We call back about 5 per cent of screened women for further tests, as a mammogram is not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ test. We work closely within our multi-disciplinary team, and discuss the treatment with the surgeons and oncologists in the Sunrise Centre to ensure we design the optimum treatment for our patients and help them through their ongoing journey.”


Certain areas have a better take up rate than others, so we need to do all we can to encourage our friends and relatives to take up their appointments when offered, and if in any doubt see their GP. Doing nothing is not an option.


  • In October the screening vans are at Hayle and Helston
  • The Mermaid Centre can be found at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Treliske, Truro, TR1 3LJ, 01872 250000
  • Some areas in Cornwall have a lower take up rate of screening appointments. These include  Redruth, Camborne and Penzance, please lets boost the uptake of appointments 
  • If in any doubt, no matter what your age, please see your GP