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Warning signs Cancer survivor Teresa Costello says she'd be dead if she ignored breast lump

If I had ignored that lump, I’d be dead.”

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Cancer survivor Teresa Costello has launched a campaign aiming to improve breast health screening and education in Ireland.

Cancer survivor Teresa Costello has launched a campaign aiming to improve breast health screening and education in Ireland.

Cancer survivor Teresa Costello has launched a campaign aiming to improve breast health screening and education in Ireland.

Cancer survivor Teresa Costello has launched a campaign aiming to improve breast health screening and education in Ireland.

The Fianna Fáil councillor was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in 2013 when she was 36 years old and underwent a mastectomy as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat the disease.

Ms Costello said battling cancer at such a young age made her aware of the lack of resources for breast health.

“I never checked my breasts,” Ms Costello told the Sunday World.

“I found a lump in the shower just by accident. I had indentation on my breasts, I had three tumours. If I had been in any way breast aware, I could have caught that so much earlier. I didn’t know any of the signs.

“If I had ignored that lump, I’d be dead.”

Now Teresa is campaigning to improve the area of breast health screening with the help of fellow breast cancer survivor Carly Mahady, Senator Erin McGreehan and Deputy John Lahart.

Her first area of improvement would be to lower the age of women who can avail of free breast screenings from 50 to 40.

She explained: “To lower the age to 40 would capture so many more women because, of the 3,700 women diagnosed annually with breast cancer, only 30 per cent fall between the age group of 50-69 that are being offered free mammograms from BreastCheck.

“So if we were able to get the age back down to 40, you would capture a higher percentage of people.

“The target age group for breast cancer screening is now out of date because the numbers are going up each year... it’s important for the screening to change with the time.”

Teresa, who is an ambassador for Breast Cancer Ireland, said she would also like to see breast health awareness added to the SPHE curriculum in secondary schools.

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“I have been working on this for quite a while now to get it added to the senior cycle. Just a little bit on breast health, not too much, but to educate younger women on taking ownership of their breast health and understanding that they need to check their breasts.

“It’s about educating the young girls from an early age to be able to understand and identify when a change happens. In Ireland, it’s nearly shameful to talk about your body or touch your body.”

Teresa also believes that women should be able to avail of a free breast check from their GP when renewing their contraceptive pill prescription.

She has been in contact with the Irish College of General Practitioners, the Department of Health and the National Screening Advisory Committee about her campaign, and plans to submit a proposal to the Dáil later this year.

Ms Costello’s campaign comes after former Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding died from breast cancer on Sunday at the age of 39.

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Sarah Harding (Yui Mok/PA)

Sarah Harding (Yui Mok/PA)

Sarah Harding (Yui Mok/PA)

She said: “Sarah Harding was a heartbreaking story but it’s one that I’m not alien to because I’ve lost three girls this year who were all very young with young kids. It’s very sad.

“We’re losing young women. The screening and education just aren’t where I want them to be.

“Seeing a girl as young and vibrant as Sarah Harding pass away because her cancer was advanced... people can be saved by being educated first. You’re not going to save everybody but we can make a difference by having better education.

“I know first hand that things need to change and I’m very serious about making these changes.”

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