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Taking control

Most people do beat breast cancer, says author of new book.

Australia and the UK lead the world in improving the survivability of breast cancer, a leading expert and new author on the subject says.

Professor John Boyages, a specialist with more than 25 years experience in the diagnosis and treatment of the cancer, said breast cancer mortality had reduced by at least 35 per cent in both countries in a little over two decades.

"I think we've done very, very well in Australia," Boyages said.

"Firstly, we've got a fantastic breast screening program that has been going now for 20 years and early detection is very important.

"Over those years we've also had better treatments as well, and that has been bringing the death rate down in Australia."

Breast cancer accounted for 21.1 deaths per 100,000 women who died in Australia in 1989.

From 2005, this morality rate had dropped to 13.7 deaths - a 35 per cent fall.

The decline was only bettered over the past 20 years by the UK, but from a higher starting point.

The UK rate of women dying from breast cancer dropped from 29.2 per 100,000 deaths to 18.3 in 2005 - a 37 per cent decline.

Spain is also worthy of note. It is the only country with a lower mortality rate than Australia (13.0) in 2005, having dropped 24 per cent over the past 20 years.

Boyages, currently teaching at hospitals in the UK, is usually based at Westmead Hospital's breast cancer centre, in Sydney.

His new book Breast Cancer: Taking Control was launched Today.

Boyages said he felt moved to write it after years of distressed calls from the public, and medical professionals, unsure of what to do after learning a loved one had breast cancer.

"I kept thinking if my colleagues can't get the right advice what about the general public?" Boyages said.

"It's taken four years to get to this point."

The book provides comprehensive explanations and advice in simple language, through illustrations and the stories of breast cancer survivors.

Women are walked though an understanding of their cancer, how to find the right treatment team, how to identify the most appropriate treatment, and important issues on the sidelines including how best to tell family and friends, and having a child after breast cancer.

"For most people, their lives do stop when breast cancer is diagnosed - it's like a mountain has dropped in the middle of your road," Boyages said.

"What I try to do in this book is to try to hold the patient by the hand and guide them around or over the mountain."

Boyages said the book did not, and Australian women should not, lose sight of the improving breast cancer survival rates.

"The reality is that most people do beat breast cancer. Certainly, the way I consult is to try and give people hope," he said.


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