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Stacey’s Melanoma Story – An Unexpected Diagnosis

By | Cancer, Skin, Women's Health | No Comments

An Unexpected Diagnosis

When Stacey was just 28, she was diagnosed with Melanoma.

Finding the melanoma wasn’t supposed to happen, but due to a series of events Stacey is lucky it was found in such early stages.

“I booked my husband in for a mole check as one of his footy team mates was diagnosed with terminal cancer from a melanoma” Stacey recalls. “Unfortunately, (well very fortunately) my husband couldn’t make the appointment at short notice so instead of cancelling the appointment I decided to get my moles checked.”

stacey-murphy-healthmint-melanomaStacey was seen by Dr Paul Tescher who did a full skin check – checking every mole on her body. “He was concerned about a small mole, only 3mm in diameter that I thought looked just like a freckle”. A couple of days later the conspicuous mole was removed and sent off for testing.

“It was Sunday afternoon and my husband and I were shopping at Fountain Gate when I received a call from Dr Paul’s Clinic”. Stacey was asked to attend the clinic immediately. “Upon this phone call my husband and I knew the mole must of been cancerous and our legs went to jelly.”

Dr Paul broke the news to Stacey that the mole had tested positive to melanoma. The cancer was spreading across the surface of Stacey’s skin and towards her bloodstream and the entire circumference of the mole tested positive to melanoma. However due to the early diagnosis, “he was extremely positive and reassuring that I would return to full health.”

Once Stacey was given her options for the removal of the melanoma, Dr Paul was able to undertake the procedure.

“The idea of having cancer in my body was terrifying so I wanted to ensure it was gone as quick as possible.”

The procedure to remove the cancer took place the next day and 1cm was removed around the original incision. A hole about the size of a 20cent piece was cut to create a flap in the skin to stretch and cover the hole. Stacey received a total of 21 stitches. This was then sent off for testing – and luckily came back with the all clear and no further traces of melanoma.

stacey-murphy-healthmint-melanoma

A family history of melanoma is apparent in Stacey’s family, with a few of her Mother’s 6 siblings being diagnosed later in life. “They were definitely surprised with my diagnosis,” Stacey claims. “I have two siblings myself and both are blonde with fair skin, while I am a brunette with olive skin. Call me naive, but I thought they would be more at risk than myself!”

“Like most Australians, I love being outdoors and soaking up the UV rays, but we need to realise that without the proper skin protection, this can come at a price.” Stacey still enjoys summer and the outdoors but now uses a 50+ sunscreen any time she heads outside.

“The diagnosis changed my outlook on life. I try not to stress the small stuff, and I take very little for granted. I wanted to share my story to encourage people of all ages to get their skin regularly checked, and to also push the use of sun protection for themselves and their families.”

stacey-murphy-malenoma-scar

“I know have a big beautiful scar on my arm which I wear with pride. It is a reminder not only to myself, but to all that know me to Slip, Slop, Slap!”

 

Thank you to Stacey for giving her permission to publish her story and her voice to help raise awareness about the importance of getting your skin checked.

If you are concerned about any unusual spots, freckles or moles, book an appointment to have your skin checked by clicking here

You can read more about our skin checks and mole removal here

If you would like more information on melanoma and the signs and symptoms to look out for then read our other articles:

Melanoma Symptoms

Skin Cancer Facts

Summer Safe Skin – What you should know about skin cancer

Skin cancer, skin checks and moles – oh my!

Want more information?

Call (03) 5611 3365 to speak to a friendly patient concierge

or book an appointment here

Melanoma Symptoms

By | Cancer, Skin | No Comments

What is Melanoma, What are the Symptoms of Melanoma?

 

 

Fast and scary facts on melanoma

  • Melanoma is Australia’s national cancer
  • Melanoma kills more young Australians than any other type of cancer
  • 1 person EVERY 5 hours will die from melanoma in Australia
  • Estimated 1,905 people died from melanoma in 2018
  • Estimated over 14,000 will be diagnosed in 2019

(https://melanoma.canceraustralia.gov.au/statistics)

Melanoma has stages…and types

There are five stages of melanoma, and they range in severity from 0 to IV. Each stage is based on characteristics such as the ulceration, the thickness of the tumour and if lymph nodes or organs are affected. Once the melanoma is diagnosed, the stage it is in will guide the treatment.

Check out https://www.melanoma.org.au/understanding-melanoma/stages-of-melanoma/ for their definitions and treatments for each stage.

Symptoms of melanoma that are hidden in plain sight (!) The hidden threat

Lumps beneath the skin

These are called nodular melanomas and can occur anywhere on the skin. They are particularly dangerous because they grow into the skin much faster than they change dimensions on the skin surface. These can be very tricky to notice before they spread.

Under the nails

As well as palms of the hands and the soles of feet.

“Age spots”

Watch out for those spots you already have that you think are changing over time because you are just ‘ageing’. Think again and have them checked.

Changes in your scalp

These are so dangerous because if you have a full head of hair, the spots are not in plain sight.

The groin and more!

Areas that never see the sun are still at risk of developing melanoma

Vision changes

Eye melanoma may not produce any symptoms, but any changes in vision should be seen by a doctor immediately

Check out and learn your ABCDEs

abcde-melanoma-signs

A is for Asymmetrical – moles with irregular shapes and that have two very different halves

B is for Border (irregular) – notched, scalloped or irregular borders

C is for Colour (changes in) – growths that may have many colours or an uneven distribution of colours

D is for Diameter – look for moles that are greater than about 6mm in diameter

E is for Evolving – always look out for changes over time. Ones that grow, change in shape and colour, or begin to itch or bleed

Treatment options for melanoma

Treatment for melanoma will depend on the following:

  • The stage of the disease
  • The location of the cancer
  • The severity of the symptoms
  • Your general health and wishes

Treatment may involved the following:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Clinical trials
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted Therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Any of these treatment methods are invasive and if waited until too late they have no guarantee that they will be successful and carry many risks and side affects.

I want to be proactive in looking after my skin – how do I prevent melanoma?

In Australia it’s near impossible to not be exposed to the sun at some point in the day. It is still important to get some UV exposure in skin-water-summer-tan-healthmintorder to take in and absorb Vitamin D which is crucial to your health. However it is recommended to do this in the earlier hours of the day and in the evening when the sun is not at its strongest.

  • Avoid the sun in the middle of the day (generally 10am-4pm) which is when it is strongest and you are more likely to get sunburnt.
  • Wear sunscreen all year round and include it into your morning routine.
  • Avoid tanning beds – they emit UV rays and increase your risk of skin cancer
  • Get to know the skin you’re in – examine your skin regularly for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, bumps, birthmarks and freckles. Be sure you don’t neglect between your toes, the soles your feet and your genitals!

skin-sunscreen-healthmint-protect

Are you frightened by the information above? Terrified by the facts you didn’t realise about melanoma? Now is the time to get your skin checked. Book an appointment online here or call (03) 5611 3365

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Skin Cancer Facts

By | Body Systems, Cancer, Skin | No Comments

It’s beginning to heat up, and Australians are eager to get out into the sun. We all know that skin cancer is a problem, but many people show a concerning disregard of sun safety. Australia has some of the highest melanoma rates in the world – two out of every three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before they are 70. It’s clearly an issue we need to address as a nation. Here are some facts about skin cancer that serve as a reminder to take sun safety seriously.

Melanoma is very common – and it can be deadly. Melanoma is the third most common cancer in men and women. It accounts for only 2% of diagnosed skin cancers, but it is responsible for 75% of skin cancer deaths. In the last 20 years, melanoma rates have doubled and are still on the rise. That being said, if melanoma is detected early it can often be completely cured with just a simple procedure.

But melanoma isn’t the only concern. Skin cancer occurs from damage to skin cells, and there are three main types. Along with melanoma, you could be at risk of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. While melanoma is the leading cause of skin cancer death, there are still significant numbers of deaths due to non-melanoma skin cancer.

It’s not worth it for a tan. Tanned skin used to be considered healthy, but actually a tan is a sign that you have been exposed to enough UV radiation to damage your skin. Many people ignore sun safety in favour of tanning for beauty-related reasons, but tanning can also cause wrinkles, sagging, and yellow or brown discolouration on the skin. A fake tan is ok from a skin cancer point of view, but don’t forget that it won’t actually protect you from the sun – you can still get sunburn.

You and your doctor make the best team. You should take time to get familiar with how your skin looks to make it easier to identify any changes. There are many great resources around to help you understand what you’re looking for. The Cancer Councils website is a great place to start. They suggest you keep a close eye out for:

  • any crusty, non-healing sores
  • small lumps that are red, pale or pearly in colour
  • new spots, freckles or any moles changing in colour, thickness or shape over a period of weeks to months.

If you notice any changes or haven’t had a skin check recently, you should see your GP to get your skin assessed. You will need to go to a skin specialist, who will examine your skin to identify any potential areas of concern.  Keeping up regular checks, both at home and every year or so with a professional, will help make sure your skin isn’t preparing a nasty surprise.

We all love the sun, but with summer on the way make sure you protect yourself and your loved ones. Team up with your doctor to ensure that if there is a problem, you’ll pick up on it early. Sunburn is a serious issue, so don’t forget to enjoy the sunshine – but stay safe.

Want more information?

Call (03) 5611 3365 to speak to a friendly patient concierge

or book an appointment here

Four Tests You Should Have Every Year

By | Body Systems, Cancer, General Wellbeing, Men's Health, Skin, Women's Health

Four Tests You Should Have Every Year

 

 

Many people avoid seeing the doctor until there is something obviously wrong. There is a huge need for preventative health measures, and early diagnosis is crucial in the successful treatment of many conditions.  A good GP will work with you to not only fix existing problems, but to prevent and identify possible areas of concern to make sure you are not only healthy now, but stay healthy for the future.

Here are four simple tests that you should have at least every year to make sure your body is functioning well.

Full Blood Tests

Your blood holds so many clues to your wellbeing, and if you don’t check you will never know. From potentially serious conditions like diabetes and cancer, to general fatigue that can come from low counts of vitamins and minerals in your blood – it’s best to find out. Your blood can give you an indication of your heart health and levels of cholesterol, and can give clues as to how your other organs are performing.

If you have any concerns about your health, talk to your doctor before the tests are ordered so they can advise you if it’s worth having some extra areas looked at. A follow-up appointment once the results come through is important as it gives your doctor the opportunity to address any concerns or send you for further tests if necessary.

Blood Pressure

If you have personal concerns about your blood pressure or any family history of unhealthy blood pressure you will need to be checked more often, but everyone should be checked at least yearly. While you can often get the tests done at a local chemist, making an appointment with your GP allows you to record your readings to notice any changes over time, to discuss what the numbers mean, and to be advised on whether any further action may be required.

“Down Under” tests – Prostate Checks, Mammograms, Colon Checks and Pap Smears

No one said they were fun, but on the other hand they are not as bad as you might imagine. Chat to your doctor about how often you should get these checks and what form they should take – your age and family history will determine how frequent they should be. For example, prostate health can sometimes be measured using a blood test, rather than the manual examination some people fear, and mammograms are not recommended for women under the age of 40. Regardless of the form these tests take, don’t let your fear of discomfort get in the way of routine checks that could save your life.

Skin Checks

Melanoma and other types of skin cancer are on the rise in Australia, and can usually be easily diagnosed by a specialist in a quick, non-invasive appointment. The specialist will look closely at your skin, paying special attention to any moles or spots you might have. Family history of skin cancer increases your risk of getting the same disease but even one bad sunburn over a lifetime has a similar increased risk. Early detection is vital for successful treatment, and many places even bulk bill their skin scans – so cost shouldn’t be a factor.

 

It’s important to find a GP who you have a good relationship with, who will work with you to guard your future health as well as treating your present concerns. Book an appointment to discuss what tests might be right for you, and don’t let nerves or apathy get the better of you. Your health is worth guarding, and a few simple tests could literally save your life.

 

Click here to book an appointment with a GP to discuss your health ->

Get Set to Quit for World No Tobacco Day

By | Cancer, General Wellbeing, Lifestyle

Get Set to Quit for World No Tobacco Day

 

 

We all know by now that smoking is not healthy, but over time it is easy to get complacent. May 31st is World No Tobacco Day, which is a yearly reminder of the damage that tobacco does to individuals, families and communities – and hopefully provides an extra incentive to quit. Here are some reasons to give a gentle reminder to your loved ones that it’s time to quit.

Tobacco and Heart Disease

The focus of this year’s No Tobacco Day is heart disease, which is just one of the many health concerns that come from smoking. Smoking puts people at a hugely increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death worldwide, and tobacco use is the second leading cause of CVD.

More than 7 million people worldwide die from tobacco-related disease. And it’s not just people who choose to smoke who are effected – around 900,000 of those deaths are non-smokers who were exposed to second-hand smoke from people around them.

Tobacco and Cancer

Cancer is a scary word – but even more scary is how much of a risk factor tobacco use can be. Smoking is the leading risk factor for preventable cancer, and 1 in 5 deaths from cancer are caused by smoking. The tobacco in cigarettes has more than 60 cancer-causing chemicals that are inhaled, and spread through the lungs and throughout the body.

Supporting Smokers

Just over 16% of Australians smoke, and 3 out of 4 smokers say they would like to quit. Clearly quitting is a difficult process, and it needs to be approached with support, respect and understanding. But while quitting is hard, the consequences of not quitting are much more serious.

It doesn’t matter how many times it takes for someone to fully quit, whether they cut down first or go “cold turkey”, whether they use nicotine products or simply stop all usage. The most important thing is that the tobacco goes, for good. Your wallet and every part of your body, including your future health, will thank you for it.

If you know a smoker or smoke yourself, it’s often best to have a plan in place before you quit. There are many good resources online to help you learn more about the quitting process. Another great place to get ongoing help and support is from your GP. They can advise you on what products and methods are available for you, and support you through the process.

On World No Tobacco Day, decide that today is the day to finally say goodbye to tobacco.

 

Click here to book an appointment with a GP to discuss quitting smoking ->

Supporting International Childhood Cancer Day

By | Cancer, Children's Health

Supporting International Childhood Cancer Day

 

 

While childhood cancer is a topic many people avoid, avoidance can mean that the people who experience it feel forgotten. Whether childhood cancer is a horrific hypothetical situation, or a diagnosis that has been experienced personally or through someone else, it’s good to take time to remember the children who are diagnosed every week. International Childhood Cancer Day raises awareness of the disease and is a call to support cancer patients, survivors and their families.

What is childhood cancer?

Any cancer diagnosed in a person aged 0-19 falls into this category. In Australia, over 950 children will be diagnosed with some form of cancer each year. 1/3 of those cancers will be found in children aged 0-4.

The most common cancers for adults, such as lung, rectal and breast cancers are very rare in children. Leukaemia, lymphoma and cancers of the central nervous system are the most common. Unlike adult cancers, childhood cancer isn’t linked to lifestyle and can’t be prevented. Other than some genetic links, there is no known cause for most childhood cancers.

Are children with cancer likely to survive?

It wasn’t so long ago that cancer in childhood was almost always fatal. These days, over 90% of Australian children survive. However, that number isn’t the same across all types of cancer. One type of cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, has a 90% survival rate, whereas the chances of surviving a brain tumour haven’t changed in decades from around 50%. Even when children’s bodies recover, cancer can take a huge toll on their mental and physical wellbeing, as well as putting a huge emotional and financial strain on families.

Circumstances can equal survival.

It’s a harsh reality, but according to the World Health Organisation up to 90% of childhood cancer deaths occur in areas that have low resources. People from low-income areas are less likely to detect cancer in time for early treatment, and they have less access to resources when parents or medical staff do suspect that something might be wrong. In Australia, there is a concerning survival gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children, as well as for children who live in remote regions.

So what can be done?

Medical research into the various forms of childhood cancer is the only way to provide long-term solutions. Research breakthroughs can then be applied to the detection and treatment of cancer, which should eventually benefit children around the world. Other institutions provide support for children and their families as they undergo treatment.

If you wish to help financially, make sure you find a reputable charity where the assistance is guaranteed to go directly to the people who need it. Some other ideas might be fundraising, raising awareness, and taking the time to reach out if you know someone who has experienced a diagnosis of childhood cancer. If you are dealing with a diagnosis, make sure you have the support you need through this difficult time.

Click here to book an appointment with a GP to talk about childhood cancer –>

Getting the Message about Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

By | Cancer, Women's Health

Getting the Message about Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

 

On Wednesday 28th of February, Teal Ribbon Day will be held to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, to support women battling the disease, and to remember lives lost. Every year, about 250,000 women will be diagnosed worldwide. Ovarian cancer often has symptoms, but they can be hard to detect. Let’s look at some facts you might not know about ovarian cancer.

Who is at risk for ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is a type of gynaecological cancer, a group that also includes endometrial cancer and cervical cancer. There are no routine screening tests that can detect ovarian cancer – some women assume their cervical smears have them covered, but they are only for cervical cancers.

While there are risk factors that increase the chances that someone might develop this type of cancer, remember that many people who end up diagnosed with it have few or none of these risk factors, whereas some women with an increased risk will never develop ovarian cancer.

Risk factors.

The risk of ovarian cancer might be increased for women who:

  • Are over the age of 50
  • Have gone through menopause
  • Have a genetic risk – two or more women from the same side of the family indicates an increased genetic risk.
  • Have never had children
  • Have never used oral contraceptives
  • Have endometriosis
  • Have unhealthy lifestyle factors such as smoking, eating a high fat diet or being overweight
  • Have hormonal issues, such as early puberty or late menopause.

Common symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer often comes with symptoms, but they can be similar to the symptoms from less serious health complaints. The four most common symptoms are pain in the pelvis or abdomen, an increase in size or bloating of the abdomen, urinating often or urgently, and feeling full after eating a small amount.

Just because you have some of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have cancer, so you shouldn’t panic. There is most likely another explanation for your symptoms, but if common illnesses are ruled out then ovarian cancer should be considered. A disease like ovarian cancer requires you to know your body and trust your instincts.

Ovarian Cancer Australia list other common symptoms as:

  • Changes in your bowel habits.
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss.
  • Bleeding in-between periods or after menopause.
  • Back pain.
  • Indigestion or nausea.
  • Excessive fatigue.
  • Pain during intercourse.

Speak Out.

Remember that no one knows your body as well as you do, so don’t ignore any warning signs. If you have symptoms frequently over a 4-week period and they are unusual for you, talk to your GP. If you are not confident in your doctor’s diagnosis, it’s ok to seek a second opinion. Don’t forget to buy a teal ribbon on the 28th of this month to help raise funds and awareness for ovarian cancer.

 

Click here to book an appointment with a GP to discuss ovarian cancer –>

Summer-Safe Skin: What You Should Know About Skin Cancer

By | Cancer, Skin, Travel

Summer-Safe Skin: What You Should Know About Skin Cancer

 

 

It’s National Skin Cancer Action week! Did you know that two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70? Most skin cancers can be prevented by good sun protection, and early detection significantly decreases the chance that you will need surgery or that the cancer will progress. The Australian Cancer Council has released some basic ways that you can prevent and detect skin cancers.

Prevention

Australians have heard the “SunSmart” message and are usually good at applying it to our children. However, some lessons haven’t sunken in quite so well. Tanning for long hours in the sun is still a common sight, and sunburns are often treated as a joke instead of causing potentially serious long-term damage to the skin. In fact, a sunburn once every two years can triple your risk of developing a melanoma. It’s never too late to prevent further damage. The Cancer Council’s 5 forms of sun protection are:

  • slip on sun-protective clothing
  • slop on SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen
  • slap on a broad-brimmed hat
  • seek shade
  • slide on sunglasses.

Your summer can still be fun, but make sure your skin isn’t suffering for it.

Detection

Looking for skin cancer keeps you safer – early detection improves your chances that a relatively simple treatment can be used to fix a problem. Make a habit of doing regular self-checks of your skin for new spots and changes to existing freckles or moles. Getting to know your own skin and what is normal for you will make it much easier to detect any changes.

Remove all of your clothing and stand in good light, either using a mirror for hard-to-check areas or asking someone else to look for you. Don’t just focus on areas that see a lot of sun – sometimes skin cancers can grow in unexpected places, like the soles of the feet, under nails and between fingers and toes.

What are you looking for?

There are three main types of skin cancer- melanoma (including nodular melanoma), basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Each generally looks and behaves in a different way. As a rule, you can use the ABCD method for detecting changes:

  • A is for Asymmetry – Spots that aren’t symmetrical. Are both sides of the spot the same or is it an irregular shape?
  • B is for Border – A spot with a spreading or irregular edge (notched).
  • C is for Colour – Blotchy spots with a number of colours such as black, blue, red, white and/or grey.
  • D is for Diameter – Look for spots that are getting bigger

Some other considerations are moles that are new, increase in size, change colour, become raised; itch, tingle or bleed, or look different to your other moles.

If you do notice changes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have skin cancer – but it does mean that you should visit your GP to have them looked at further. You can also discuss your personal skin cancer risk and schedule regular skin checks.

Click here to book an appointment with a GP to discuss your skin health –>

4 Reasons Everybody Should Think About Their Lungs

By | Body Systems, Cancer, Chronic Disease, General Wellbeing

4 Reasons Everybody Should Think About Their Lungs

 

 

We take around 22,000 breaths every day, but more than half of all Australians do not think about their lung health.  November is Lung Health Awareness month, which is a good time for everybody to pause and think about their own lung health, as well as having a supportive attitude towards other people who have been diagnosed with lung disease.

Lung disease symptoms often increase slowly, which causes people to adjust their daily life or treat their symptoms instead of getting help.  Lung disease does not discriminate, and can affect people of any age, any gender, smokers and non-smokers. Yet people with lung disease often feel judged and misunderstood. Here are 4 reasons why we should all take time to think about our lungs.

  1. Most people don’t take lung health seriously

Three out of five Australians who participated in a Lung Health Foundation study were found to have symptoms or risk factors that increased the possibility that they might develop lung disease, while more than one in ten have been diagnosed. Lung health is something that every person should consider. According to Lung Foundation Australia, 1 in 7 Australians die because of lung disease every year, yet many people continue to ignore or misunderstand the signs and symptoms of lung disease.

  1. Lung disease is a very serious diagnosis

Lung cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of any cancer – only 15% of those diagnosed are alive five years after their diagnosis. One Australian dies every hour from lung cancer, which makes it the leading cause of cancer death in Australia – more than prostate, breast and ovarian cancer combined. Early detection gives the best chance of a positive outcome, making it even more important that we are conscious of changes to our lungs.

  1. Lung cancer sufferers face discrimination

While there are many factors linked to lung cancer, almost 90% of Australians think that smoking is the only lung cancer risk. This misinformation has led to a third of Australians believing that people with lung cancer have only themselves to blame.

While factors such as smoking and poor lifestyle decisions do increase the risk of lung disease, many people who are living with a diagnosis have never smoked in their life. Regardless of their status as a smoker, people with lung disease still deserve the compassion and understanding that we would give to anyone suffering from a life-altering illness.

  1. There are symptoms we can all look out for

Most symptoms should be compared to your usual lung functions, so it’s important to be aware of your lung functions even if you don’t think there is a problem. Some of the symptoms that might indicate a problem are:

  • Breathlessness, especially compared to others of your age
  • Chest tightness or wheezing
  • A persistent, new or changed cough
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood, mucus or phlegm.
  • Unexplained weight loss or fatigue
  • Frequent chest infections

Also, you should pay extra attention to your lungs if you have a family history of lung disease, are a past or present smoker, or have worked in a job that exposed you to dust, gas or fumes. If you have any concerns, talk to your GP as soon as possible so they can help you on the road to healthy lungs.

Click here to book an appointment with a GP to discuss your lungs –>

 

Beating Breast Cancer – How to Be Breast Aware

By | Cancer, Chronic Disease, Clinic News, Women's Health

 

 

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers among Australian women (and men can also get breast cancer). Early detection ensures the best rate of survival, so it’s important to be aware and check your breasts regularly. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s a great reminder to be proactive about your breasts.

Here are four important ways you can stay aware of your breast health.

1. Know your risk factors

Your risk factors determine how likely or unlikely it is that you will get breast cancer, but even people assessed as very low risk can be diagnosed with this cancer. Some factors can’t be changed. Being a woman, getting older, and having relatives with this cancer makes it more likely that you could get breast cancer.

If you have these risk factors, focus on increased awareness and reducing the risks you can control. There are simple steps that even people with a low risk of breast cancer should take. These include limiting alcohol, eating healthy foods and maintaining a healthy body weight through exercise. If it an option for you, breastfeeding for more than 12 months in total has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer. No matter how low your risk, it still pays to check yourself regularly.

2. Have mammograms (where appropriate)

While many people think of mammograms as the best way to detect breast cancer, that isn’t true for everyone. Mammograms are not very effective in women younger than 40, and women who are older than 70 need to discuss their options with their doctor.

Breasts gradually become less dense as women get older, which makes the early signs of breast cancer easier to see. The ideal age group for mammograms is from 50 – 70. In Australia, women aged 40 and older are offered a free mammogram every 2 years. Your doctor can help you decide if mammograms are right for you.

3. Check yourself

The most important thing you can do to catch breast cancer early is to become familiar with the shape and feel of your breasts. There are many techniques available, but as long as you visually and physically inspect your breasts you should be able to notice changes.

Some things you might look out for are lumps or lumpiness (especially only on one side), a change to the nipple including discharge, crusting, redness or if your nipple inverts, skin changes (for example, becoming red or dimpling), a pain that doesn’t go away, or a change to your breasts’ size or shape.

4. Talk to your doctor

Nine out of ten breast changes are normal and not due to breast cancer, but you should check with your doctor to be sure. Remember that early detection has a large impact on survival rates. 89 out of every 100 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer survive five or more years beyond diagnosis, and the survival rates in Australia are continuing to improve. See your GP if you have any concerns or notice any changes to your breasts, and make sure you and your loved ones stay breast aware.

Click here to make an appointment with a GP to discuss breast cancer or a breast check.

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