Women were handed colourful gerberas and pink balloons as they walked through City Gate, Valletta, yesterday, in preparation for Breast Cancer Awareness month in October.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in Malta affecting nearly 200 women every year.

There were 1,300 cases of breast cancer between 2000 and 2005. One out of 12 Maltese women will get breast cancer during their lifetime; this is significantly higher than the European average. Between 1996 and 2006 there were around 850 deaths, according to the Malta Cancer registry.

For the fourth consecutive year, supported by the National Council of Women and the Action for Breast Cancer foundation, the Saint James Hospital group is participating in the Breast Awareness campaign entitled 'Think Pink'.

In order to encourage breast examinations, during October, the Saint James Hospital group is offering breast examinations starting from €47, around half the normal price.

Saint James Hospital Group head of radiology Josef Tabone said heightened awareness was key since the incidence of breast cancer in Malta was high.

Yet despite this reality, some people were still reluctant to undergo mammographic examination.

He also mentioned that certain misconceptions regarding the examination still persisted, and may be a reason for deterring women from breast screening. Advice from a qualified healthcare professional should be sought regarding this issue.

Mr Tabone said women over 40 should have their breasts examined regularly. And women with a family history of breast cancer were likely to need attention at a younger age.

Malta is one of a small minority of EU countries without firm timeframes for screening those women at risk, according to the Commission Report on Cancer Screening in the European Union.

Women with a mother, sister or daughter diagnosed with breast cancer have a markedly increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Obesity increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer by up to 30 per cent. Women using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for five years or longer have an elevated risk of breast cancer.

Drinking as little as one pint of beer or one glass of wine a day increases the risk of breast cancer by more than seven per cent. A more active lifestyle and healthy diet (low on carbohydrates and fats) reduces breast cancer risk.

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