Pri­ori­tise your breast health.

Breast Can­cer Aware­ness Month is a great re­minder to pri­ori­tise your breast health.

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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 coun­ to Breast Can­cer Net­work Aus­tralia (BCNA) at Bcna. For more in­for­ma­tion, go to

Cancer­aus­ 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.”

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