A summary of the lively breast cancer prevention debate held in Portcullis House, Westminster on 26 April.

At the well-attended event, experts from the breast cancer community spoke for or against the motion: ‘This APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group) believes that more focus should be put on preventing breast cancer.’

Hearing from the experts

At the start of the event, four key figures made short speeches setting out their stance.

Jackie Harris, a clinical nurse specialist from the charity Breast Cancer Care delivered the opening speech, arguing that we must focus more on risk reduction than prevention. She stated that increasing breast awareness would ensure the public is well-informed and have the confidence to report breast cancer symptoms early.

The debate’s second speaker, Professor Annie Anderson from the University of Dundee, emphasised the rising incidence of breast cancer and related this to three main lifestyle factors: lack of physical activity, obesity and alcohol consumption. Professor Anderson argued that we need to make women more aware of these risk factors and ensure they are empowered to make changes. Doing so, she stated, would enable women to “stack the odds in their favour.”

Lynn Ladbrook, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer UK, drew the focus of the debate to environmental and chemical risk factors. Although this is an area often overlooked, Ms Ladbrook suggested that exposure to carcinogens and hazardous chemicals is an area of growing concern among scientists and international bodies such as the World Health Organisation. She concluded by saying that greater investment is needed in this area.

The final speaker was Eluned Hughes, Head of Public Health and Information at Breast Cancer Now. She explained that Breast Cancer Now’s approach is that information alone is not enough to change behaviour. We must understand what interventions work in which settings, in order to sustain change and prevent cases of breast cancer.

The four opening remarks were followed by an educational and stimulating 45 minute debate, which saw the motion both supported and contested, and breast cancer prevention discussed in detail. A wide range of topics were raised and further key questions asked: How do we gather the evidence we need for prevention? Are we looking long-term enough? Could schools do more to raise awareness and put prevention on the agenda?

What we learnt

This debate was an important reminder that breast cancer prevention is a significant, albeit contested area of work, as part of the wider fight against breast cancer. Despite the contention, all of the debate’s speakers were unanimous in their view that the public should be informed of risk factors and should be supported in taking action to reduce their risk where possible.

What next?

The chair of the debate Dr Philippa Whitford MP, an experienced breast cancer surgeon, thanked the contributors for an engaging debate. She expressed her hope for future discussion on breast cancer prevention in Parliament – we’ll keep you updated so watch this space.

More information

Breast Cancer Now provide the Secretariat to the APPGBC, and our aim is to accurately predict who is at increased risk of breast cancer and enable them to take action with the right interventions – whether that’s lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, or risk-reducing surgery and drugs.

Read more information on risk and prevention