Prioritise your breast health.
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a great reminder to prioritise your breast health.
WHILE ADVANCES in cancer treatment continue to show promising results worldwide and in Australia, breast cancer remains the most diagnosed
cancer in women in this country. In 2016, more than 16,000 new cases will be diagnosed here with about 44 women being told they have breast cancer every day. Men do get breast cancer too, though their numbers are far lower – about 150 a year.
While all that sounds grim, mortality rates for breast cancer have lowered significantly in the past few decades. In the mid-80s, about 70 per cent of women passed the five-year cancer survival mark. Today the figure is closer to 90 per cent. Cancer Australia CEO Professor Helen Zorbas says the improved survival rates are due to “an effective national screening program, early detection and the availability of constantly improving treatments”.
“It’s important that women know how to find breast cancer early. This means there are more treatment options and the chances of survival are greater,” Professor Zorbas adds.
So, throughout October, Cancer Australia’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month will reach out to help women better understand what they need to know about breast cancer. Breast cancer does not discriminate. It can affect an adult woman of any age. Every day, for example, two women under the age of 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer, with about 800 women aged between 29 and 39 diagnosed every year.
Cancer Australia says that young women face unique medical and psychosocial challenges if they are diagnosed with breast cancer, including premature menopause, fertility and sexuality issues. Also, role functions may be threatened, including partnering, caring for young children, education and career issues. “Concern about these issues may contribute to younger women experiencing higher levels of psychosocial distress
following diagnosis, compared with
older women,” says Professor Zorbas. While mammographic screening
is effective in older women, there’s no evidence to support the use of screening in women under 40. This is largely due to the dense nature of breast tissue in younger women. Meanwhile, for women aged between 50 and 74, Cancer Australia says it’s recommended that women, having considered the benefits and downsides, attend the BreastScreen Australia program for free mammograms every two years.
It can be easy for women of any age to get out of the habit of checking their breasts, however, it is important to
keep doing monthly checks even if you already have regular mammograms. “It is a good idea to take the time to get to know the normal look and feel of your breasts as part of everyday activities like having a shower, getting dressed or simply looking in the mirror,” says Professor Zorbas. Knowing what is normal for you will help you to notice any new breast changes. Nine out of 10 changes aren’t due to breast cancer but you should have any changes checked out just to be sure.
Another important risk factor is if close family members have been diagnosed with breast cancer. “Some women with a family history [of breast or ovarian cancer] may have inherited a faulty gene which increases the risk of cancer,” says Professor Zorbas. “Some of these genes are called BRCA1 and BRCA2. If a woman has inherited a fault in one of these genes, she has a high chance of developing ovarian or breast cancer, although it doesn’t mean it’s certain. “For these women, preventive options such as preventive mastectomy, riskreducing medication and specialist surveillance for early detection of breast cancer are available. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.”
Finally, if you are diagnosed with breast
cancer, your treatment will depend on the type of breast cancer it is and the stage of the cancer. You can look at various options for treatment and don’t be afraid to ask questions about your choices. If surgery or a full mastectomy is considered, remember breast reconstruction is a common procedure, although choosing whether to go ahead with it is a personal decision, says Cancer Australia.
It’s good to know too that there are many organisations and support groups available for women who have or have had breast cancer. They range from the NSW Cancer Council (Cancer council.com.au) to Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) at Bcna. org.au. For more information, go to
Canceraustralia.gov.au or to make a mammogram booking with BreastScreen Australia, call 13 20 50.
“Take the time to get to know the normal look and feel of your breasts.”