Breast cancer a risk for young women too

18:41, Oct 01 2012
'YOU ARE ALWAYS VULNERABLE': Helena McAlpine was diagnosed with breast cancer aged just 31-year-old.
'YOU ARE ALWAYS VULNERABLE': Helena McAlpine was diagnosed with breast cancer aged just 31 years old.

Helena McAlpine was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, aged just 31. She beat it. In 2011 it came back, for good.

In January the former television presenter was given three months to live, that has now been extended to 1 or 2 years.

“So I thought what am I going to do with my time. I can’t diagnose you, but I can spread the message,” she said at the launch of the The Breast Cancer Foundation's Cancer Action Month campaign.

The campaign targets young women, who according to new research commissioned by the foundation, are largely unaware breast cancer is their main cancer risk.

Although women over 50 are the largest group affected by the 2800 new case of breast cancer every year, two-thirds of women aged 20-39 don’t realise that breast cancer is the most common cancer in their age group.

Many young women believe that cervical cancer is more prevalent, but it represents just 8 per cent of cancer cases in their age group.

“I was 31, why would I have thought about breast cancer?” McAlpine said.

“This is about reminding women that no matter what happen in life you are always vulnerable to this.”

Women aged 40 – 44 are also unaware of the dangers of breast cancer, declaring themselves “too young” to need breast cancer screening, with 70 per cent having never had a mammogram, according to the research.

Young women also rarely monitor their breasts for changes that might indicate cancer. Thirty seven per cent of women aged 20-39 check for change less than once a year, including 12 per cent that never do.

“We all automatically apply sunscreen, and many women have regular cervical smears from a young age, yet when it comes to being proactive about their breast health, they don’t know their risk, so they’re not taking steps to minimise it,” said New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation chief executive Evangelia Henderson.

The campaign is headlined by McAlpine and features a new recording of Chris Knox’s ballad Not Given Lightly, performed by local artists including Tim Finn, Anika Moa, The Topp Twins, Brooke Fraser and Hollie Smith.

The song’s music video stars a number of New Zealand’s best know personalities and the women who mean the most to them, including Sam Neil, Graham and Raewyn Henry, and Jay Reeve and Anna Fitzpatrick.


Fairfax Media