Dawn Butler: Brent Labour MP diagnosed with breast cancer

Dawn Butler, 52, MP for Brent, northwest London, has revealed she has been treated for breast cancer and urged women to ensure they attend their routine cancer screenings.

A London Labour MP has said her mammogram “saved her life” after speaking out about her recent breast cancer diagnosis and surgery.

Dawn Butler, 52, MP for Brent, northwest London, has revealed she has been treated for breast cancer and urged women to ensure they attend their routine cancer screenings.

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It comes as the NHS revealed there had been a 15% drop in women in London attending mammograms - compared to 12% across England as a whole.

Dawn Butler’s ejection from parliament shows that sometimes rules are meant to be broken (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

While almost a fifth of all eligible women in London have never had a mammogram, compared to 13% England-wide.

Analysis in 2016 by Cancer Research UK and Public Health England revealed black African women are nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with late stage breast cancer as white women in England, while there is a generally lower uptake of scans among people of colour.

And black British women in Hackney, east London, are diagnosed with breast cancer 21 years younger than their white counterparts, a 2008 British Cancer Journal study found.

Ms Butler was diagnosed at a routine scan, which is offered by the NHS to all women aged from 50 to 71, in December 2021 and has since undergone surgery at the Royal London Hospital.

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She spoke publicly about her illness for the first time to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire, who was treated for breast cancer in 2015 and wrote a book, Dear Cancer, about her experience.

“The more we can talk about cancer the less of a struggle it might be to cope with it and it helps - it is helpful,” she said.

“A mammogram saved my life.

“Without a mammogram my cancer wouldn’t have been discovered

“There’s a million women who haven’t had their mammogram, who missed it because of Covid-19.

“That’s an estimated 9,000 women who are walking around with breast cancer and they don’t know it.

“There will be women who will die if their breast cancer is not discovered - needlessly so.

“Please go for your mammogram. Just take it up and go for it and don’t hesitate.”

BBC journalist Victoria Derbyshire. Photo: Getty

In a statement on her website, Ms Butler said breast cancer cells were identified at a “very early stage”.

She said: “Everything stood still as it does when you hear the dreaded C-word – it is a shock but an early diagnosis means that it is something that I will get through and over.

“The NHS has caught my cancer early, the operation was a complete success, and I will make a full recovery.”

And she said despite being a “workaholic” she would be taking time off during her recovery, but reassured her constituents that her office was still fully up and running and her staff would continue to support them.

She added: “I have seen first-hand how the NHS is under enormous pressure – The Royal London seemed full, people were waiting on chairs in A&E for beds, the staff were exhausted in the NHS and many were suffering from PTSD.

“Covid-19 has taken a lot out of them. So many people have missed appointments (many through no fault of their own), results are delayed and operations postponed.

“If we are to show our appreciation for the amazing NHS workers and rebuild our health service then we need to properly invest in the NHS, both structurally and in the very people who keep it functioning.”

NHS Digital data found 460,962 women were screened for breast cancer in London in 2020-21, down from 546,381 in 2019-20, and a drop of 15.6% vs 12.1% nationally.

While 55.2% of eligible women in London were up-to-date with their mammograms in March 2021, down from 67.3% in March 2020 - and worse than the national average, of 64.2%.

There is widespread concern about the NHS cancer backlog following the strain on the health service during the pandemic and people not visiting their GP with their concerns.

During the interview, Ms Butler shared how she felt when she received the news.

“The first thing I thought was, ‘I’m dying’,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’ve got 24 hours to live’.

“The next thing I thought was, ‘I’m going to lose all my hair’.”

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Ms Butler didn’t need to undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy, as her operation - a mastectomy to remove the cancerous cells - was a success.

She told Ms Derbyshire: “It’s all out. The cancer is gone.

“The more we can talk about cancer the less of a struggle it might be to cope with it and it helps - it is helpful.”

Of the medics, including the nurses, who treated her, she said: “I’ve kind of made a promise to them that I’m not going to forget them.

“They don’t always feel valued. They saved my life. They really are sort of superheroes.”

But she said the fear of receiving a racist backlash to making her diagnosis public saw her experience panic attacks.

“It is a huge thing to do because I know I’m going to get some wonderful comments and support but there is going to be abuse as well from me going public,” she said.

“I’ve got to make sure I’m physically and mentally strong enough to do that.”

Leanne Pero who founded Black Women Rising, a charity providing support groups to black women diagnosed with cancer, also spoke to the BBC.

“We’ve been told time and time again, black people don’t get cancer because people don’t see that the cancer narrative fits them,” she said.

And Dr Georgette Oni, a consultant oncoplastic breast surgeon, added: “Women have said to me that they don’t think it applies to them because the information they get, they don’t really see anybody that looks like them in the leaflet.

“Overall compared to 10, 20, and 30 years ago, breast cancer treatment is very good. But we are still seeing disparities and there is always work to do.”

For more information and support, visit Black Women Rising, Cancer Research or the NHS website.