EastEnders fans have seen Dame Barbara Windsor’s character, Peggy Mitchell, has been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer that has spread to her bones and brain. Secondary breast cancer can be diagnosed many years after seemingly successful treatment for tumours that remained in the breast and this storyline reflects this reality. Peggy was first treated for breast cancer on the popular BBC 1 show in 1996, then again in 1999 when she was the first soap character to undergo a mastectomy.
Dr Victoria Harmer, Trustee of Against Breast Cancer and lead breast cancer nurse specialist at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust advised the Eastenders production team on-set and explains “This storyline raises awareness of secondary breast cancer so it’s vital that the scenario is accurately portrayed. I hope that this helps raise more funds for charities like Against Breast Cancer so that we can learn how to diagnose this currently incurable disease at the earliest possible stage and treat it more effectively”.
Dame Barbara Windsor found great comfort as an actress having a qualified cancer nurse on set and said “Approaching such a serious and sensitive health matter is very daunting as you wish to get things right as unfortunately so many people are affected by this awful illness. I think it’s imperative that TV, film and theatre companies continue to seek professional advice and work alongside such people and organisations when dealing with health matters. I will be eternally grateful to Vickki for her guidance.”
Secondary breast cancer, also called metastasis, occurs in up to a third of breast cancer patients when breast cancer cells spread around the body to establish tumours in the bones, liver, lung or brain. Against Breast Cancer fund research to enable diagnosis of secondary disease to happen earlier, to design more effective treatments and to understand how diet and lifestyle factors impact risk of disease.