Wearing it Pink to overcome breast cancer

Guest blog by Professor Diana Harcourt, Co-Director of the Centre for Appearance Research, University of the West of England

Todaydiana harcourt 3 sep 2013 I will be supporting wear it pink, Breast Cancer Campaign’s fundraising event where thousands of people across the country go to work, school or hold events at home dressed in pink and donate £2. It’s a simple idea and it’s really good fun but for me it’s vital so that I can do my job.

The event has been running for 11 years and has raised £23 million to date for Breast Cancer Campaign’s vital research.

The event has special significance for me and other researchers who share my passion, the psychosocial aspects of breast cancer.

Everyone agrees about the importance of research that aims to find cures for breast cancer or life-extending treatment. Getting funding to do that type of research is always difficult, but getting funding for research into the emotional and personal impact of breast cancer is even harder despite being equally important. I’m really pleased that Breast Cancer Campaign places as much importance on research into the improvements needed in “helping people deal with the emotional impact of breast cancer and the side effects of treatment.

This October Breast Cancer Campaign launched their response to research gaps identified by leading internationally-recognised breast cancer experts and patient advocates in a review coordinated by the charity and published in the journal Breast Cancer Research. The response, a report called Help us find the cures comes down to one aim: tackling the identified research gaps so that breast cancer can be outlived and overcome by 2050.

Committing to increase funding into psychological and social impacts of cancer is vital for researchers like me who have seen large cuts in this area in recent years. Breast Cancer Campaign rightly recognises that overcoming breast cancer is an emotional process just as much as a physical one and reflects this in its funding.

Personally, Breast Cancer Campaign has funded a number of my projects over the nine years I have been working with them. Throughout this time I too have been able to develop from Senior Lecturer in health psychology to Professor and Co-Director of the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England. The funding for my projects has allowed me to introduce four new PhD students into this specialised field and help them develop into the amazing researchers they are today. Our work has provided an insight into the impacts of breast cancer from a psychosocial point of view.

Fiona Kennedy, one of my PhD students looked at the lack of consistent information for women diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS), a condition where cancerous cells are confined to the milk ducts and may only spread into the rest of the breast tissue in up to half of cases. The findings of this research led to a new section about DCIS on a website about patients’ experiences called Healthtalkonline.org. This opened up previously unpublished support and information to both patients and health professionals. Fiona was an advisor on the development of the DCIS part of the website, which had never before had a module focussing solely on  DCIS.   This is a really valuable for resource for DCIS patients, who’s information and support needs are often different to those of women with invasive breast cancer.

My current PhD student, Melissa Pilkington’s work is helping women best anticipate and cope with the impact of hair loss during cancer treatment. While for some, this could be seen as secondary to researching new and more effective treatments, I think its  essential because the physical side-effects of treatments such as chemotherapy and breast reconstruction can lead to reduced self-esteem, increased self-consciousness and problems with social interactions and relationships, all of which can prevent women from overcoming the disease.

But none of the work carried out by me and my team with Breast Cancer Campaign funding would be possible without the charity’s largest fundraising event, Wear it Pink. It raises around £2 million for Breast Cancer Campaign every year, allowing researchers like me to focus on what we know best – the science and research behind breast cancer so we too can play our part in helping to overcome breast cancer by 2050 while supporting those living with and beyond the disease.

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