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Breaking News: Labor MP Peta Murphy Dies from Breast Cancer

After a multi-year battle with breast cancer, federal MP Peta Murphy has died from the disease, having dedicated much of her career to improving the landscape of women's health and raising awareness for cancer.

In a poignant loss for the Australian political landscape, the passing of Peta Murphy has left a void – beyond her political career, Murphy's legacy is marked by her relentless advocacy for cancer sufferers, particularly in the realm of women's health. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 at the age of 37, Murphy's journey became a testament to resilience and determination.  Undeterred by the challenges that lay ahead, she emerged as a champion against the disease, co-founding the bipartisan parliamentary Friends of Women's Health group in 2021. Her advocacy aimed to raise awareness, destigmatise the conversation around cancer, and champion policies that support those affected – in 2020, it was estimated that around 3,043 women died from breast cancer.  

In 2019, Murphy's resolve was put to the ultimate test when she delivered a powerful first speech to parliament just weeks after learning that her cancer had returned. Her words resonated not only with her colleagues but with a broader audience, shedding light on the unpredictable and cunning nature of cancer.

"As I now know, cancer is not just indiscriminate, it's sneaky," she remarked, encapsulating the challenges faced by those living with the disease.

In 2016, she stood for Dunkley, making history as its first Labor representative in over a decade three years later. Her commitment to addressing critical issues extended beyond healthcare, as seen in her role in a parliamentary inquiry into the impact of online gambling, which advocated for significant regulatory changes. 

Peta Murphy's legacy extends beyond the political arena. Her advocacy for women's health, particularly breast cancer awareness, has left an indelible mark. The recommendations made in the parliamentary inquiry she contributed to underscore her commitment to creating positive change. As the nation mourns her passing, her impact on healthcare policy and advocacy will be remembered as an enduring contribution.

Peta’s battles with cancer served as a testament to the need for continued efforts in research, awareness, and support for those affected by the disease – even while undergoing treatment for the disease, the politician still travelled to Canberra to support a registry for metastatic cancer patients.   

Peta Murphy's battle against breast cancer, sheds light on the complex and often unpredictable nature of the disease. Breast cancer, like many forms of cancer, can exhibit a pattern of remission and recurrence, posing significant challenges for patients and healthcare professionals alike.

The Reality of Cancer Recurrence

Cancer recurrence refers to the reappearance of cancer cells after a period of remission or successful treatment. While advances in cancer therapies have improved survival rates, recurrence remains a daunting challenge. Breast cancer, in particular, has been known to exhibit recurrence, even after initial treatment success.

In breast cancer, recurrence rates depend on multiple factors, including the stage at diagnosis, the aggressiveness of the cancer, and the effectiveness of initial treatment. Unfortunately, a fraction of breast cancer survivors experiences a recurrence, emphasising the need for ongoing vigilance and surveillance. 

Several factors contribute to the risk of breast cancer recurrence. These include: 

  • Tumour Characteristics: Aggressive or high-grade tumours may have a higher likelihood of recurrence.
  • Lymph Node Involvement: If cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, the risk of recurrence may increase.
  • Hormone Receptor Status: Hormone receptor-positive cancers may have specific risks associated with hormonal therapies.
  • Treatment Response: The effectiveness of initial treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, impacts the risk of recurrence.
  • Time Since Diagnosis: The risk of recurrence is typically highest in the first few years after diagnosis, but it can persist for an extended period.

Understanding cancer recurrence involves grappling with the intricate interplay of biological, genetic, and environmental factors. Residual cancer cells may evade initial treatments, lying dormant for an extended period before resurfacing. This dormancy and subsequent reactivation contribute to the challenges of predicting and preventing recurrence.

Some common signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:

Breast Lump or Thickening: A new lump or mass in the breast or underarm area is a common symptom of breast cancer. It may feel different from the surrounding breast tissue and may or may not be painful.

Changes in Breast Size or Shape: Any unexplained changes in breast size or shape, such as swelling or distortion, should be assessed by a healthcare provider. 

Nipple Changes: Changes in the nipple, such as inversion (turning inward), redness, scaling, or discharge (other than breast milk), may indicate a potential issue. 

Skin Changes: Redness, dimpling, or puckering of the breast skin, resembling an orange peel, could be a sign of breast cancer.

Breast Pain: While breast pain is a common symptom, it is rarely associated with breast cancer. But persistent or localised pain should be evaluated.

Unexplained Swelling: Swelling in part or all of the breast, even without a lump, should be examined by a healthcare professional.

Enlarged Lymph Nodes: Lumps in the underarm area or above the collarbone could indicate the spread of breast cancer to nearby lymph nodes.

It's essential to remember that many breast changes are not cancerous, and some breast lumps are benign – but any concerning symptoms should be brought to the attention of a healthcare provider for further evaluation, diagnosis and appropriate management. Breast cancer screening, such as mammograms and clinical breast exams, can aid in the early detection of breast cancer, especially in women at an increased risk or above a certain age.

Head on over to the National Breast Cancer Foundation to find out more about the condition and donate. 

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