As the popular charity ball celebrates its 10th year, DW finds out how the proceeds directly benefit local women.

Breast Cancer Surgeon Manvydas Varzgalis is calling on Donegal people to go out and enjoy the North West Breast Cancer Ball for the benefit of Donegal woman.

The annual fundraising event is celebrating its 10th year with a special anniversary ball in the Silver Tassie Hotel on Friday 29th November. 

Money raised over the past 10 years has enabled the Breast Centre North West to carry out research and advancements for the benefit of local women, according to Dr. Manvydas Varzgalis, one of the two breast surgeons at Letterkenny University Hospital.

Over €17,000 was raised at last year’s star-studded event.

Manvydas Varzgalis – Consultant Breast Surgeon at Breast Centre North West

Dr. Varzgalis is encouraging anyone thinking about supporting the Breast Cancer Ball to go and get the last remaining tickets: “Definitely go to the breast ball, you improve the outcomes for Donegal women. You improve the diagnostic outcomes and, if they develop cancer, you improve the treatment options, especially from a surgical point of view,” he told Donegal Woman.

Up to 3,000 patients are seen at the Breast Centre North West each year. Sadly for 100 of those women, an assessment will result in a cancer diagnosis.

The good news is that funding for breast cancer research has significantly reduced mortality rates. 

Dr. Varzgalis said: “There is so much awareness worldwide of breast cancer. Overall, if you look at the funding, you see the best funding is for breast cancer, and if you look at the outcomes – mortality decreased by 40% in the last 20 years, this is because of research and because we have a better understanding.”

Some of the research papers produced at Breast Centre North West

Studies carried out in Letterkenny have produced internationally-regarded papers, while some findings are being used to directly improve the experiences of patients in the unit.

The papers have been funded by the Breast Cancer Ball, as the proceeds pay for research nurses and student fellows. The donations also buy some of the comforting elements of the unit – such as the pink gowns worn by women during examinations and the tea and coffee facilities in the waiting room.

Pink gowns at the Breast Centre North West – supported by the Breast Cancer Fundraising Ball

Because of the research funds, Dr. Varzgalis said the surgical outcomes and diagnostics of breast cancer have already improved for patients, while self-audits in the Breast Centre are used to improve the quality of the unit itself.

A recent study looked unnecessary biopsies, Dr Varzgalis said: “Our audit showed that we could select patients who wouldn’t benefit from biopsies and we are trying to implement and improve that in our practice.”

Some of the research papers produced from Breast Centre North West

Another direct result of the research is that it has enabled improved surgical planning. 

“We are doing more breast-conserving surgery,” Dr Varzgalis said.

“We have learned to remove bigger lumps and still avoid mastectomy, and that involves a lot of surgical planning and special software.”

The advancement means that breast-conserving rates are 72% in Letterkenny, above the international standard of 60-70%.

Breast Centre North West has a good reputation for research, Dr Varzgalis said, which helps to attract skilled doctors. 

“You always want to attract good doctors, and it is important that they have the ability to do research projects. If the unit can offer them you have the ability to attract stronger doctors,” Dr Varzgalis said.

Delays at the Breast Centre North West made the headlines in 2017 as waiting lists reached up to one year. Now, with two surgeons, the waiting times are in line with national standards.

Urgent patients are seen within two weeks, Dr Varzgalis said, while women who are referred with non-urgent symptoms such as breast pain may wait longer. 

“Unfortunately in Letterkenny, quite a few patients present with slightly more advanced disease,” Dr Varzgalis said. 

This comes down to awareness: “We see a lot of patients having a lump and ignoring it for a little while and they come into us and they may need more aggressive treatment and more aggressive surgery.”

The surgeon’s message to women, particularly older women, is to check themselves and ‘be paranoid’:

“I notice elderly patients in their late 70s or 80s are ignoring the symptoms. Although in a patient of that age, the breast cancer is not aggressive but unfortunately it’s picked up at quite late stages.

“We advise for all patients to examine themselves and be paranoid and if you notice anything go to your GP and they usually refer to the Breast Unit.”

Manvydas Varzgalis – Consultant Breast Surgeon at Breast Centre North West

As the Breast Unit team looks forward to benefiting from another Breast Cancer Ball, Dr Varzgalis said they are all very grateful to the committee for their hard work. 

“Contributions from the breast ball and from Donegal people to the breast unit is invaluable,” he adds.

Tickets are almost sold out for the North West Breast Cancer Ball at the Silver Tassie Hotel Letterkenny. With adaptive adventurer and cancer survivor Nikki Bradley as special guest, Noel Cunningham as MC and entertainment from the Bentley Boys, it promises to be a moving and enjoyable event.

Tickets are 50 euro, and include a sparkling wine reception, a splendid five course meal with wine, dancing to the band, followed by a disco. An exciting auction and raffle will be held thanks to generous sponsorship from the business community in Donegal and further afield.

Tickets are available at the Silver Tassie Hotel by calling 074 91 25619.

Why not make a night of it? Accommodation – B&B is currently available at the special rate of €40 per person sharing at the Silver Tassie, just ring 074 91 25619 to book.

Visit the North West Breast Cancer Charity Ball 2019 Facebook page for more.