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Chronic Disease

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.

Managing your Asthma

By | Asthma, Chronic Disease

Managing your Asthma

 

Asthma can be confusing because it means different things to different people – from wheezing after a short run, to being admitted to hospital. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with asthma, it’s important to know that asthma is a manageable condition. While there might not be a cure, here are some key areas that can help you get control over the symptoms.

Asthma action plan

An asthma action plan is written in conjunction with your doctor, and tells you what medications you should take, how to tell if your asthma is getting worse, what to do if you have worsening symptoms, and what to do in the event of an asthma attack. If you find that you are having symptoms more than once or twice a week, your asthma could probably be better controlled. Chat to your GP about starting or updating your plan, as your needs will change over time.

Correctly using your inhaler

If you do not use your inhaler correctly, you will not get the full dose of medicine – and up to 90% of people are thought to be using their puffers incorrectly. There are many different types of inhalers available, so there is potential for change if your current model is not working for you. Spacers can also be used help you get the whole dose of medicine, so children should always use a spacer for both preventative and reliever puffers, and adults may be recommended to use them with preventative puffers. There are different types of spacers as well, so work with your doctor to find the right combination for you.

Identifying triggers

Asthma can be triggered by many factors or combination of factors. It could be a cold that you catch, something you inhale such cold air or irritants in the air, strong emotions, physical activity, food or alternative medicines, or other factors in your environment.

Some triggers you should avoid, such as smoking and air pollution inside. Some you can’t really avoid, such as catching a cold or stress – but you should try to minimise your risks. Other triggers like exercise, sex and laughing shouldn’t be avoided. If you find these triggers are causing asthma episodes, you and your doctor should consider a change in your management plan and medication so you can maintain your quality of life.

Complimentary therapies

There are some well-researched practices that you can speak with your doctor about using to help manage your asthma. Caffeine has been shown to increase lung capacity, and there are some promising signs that eucalyptus oils can help. Other therapies such as acupuncture, herbal medicines and supplements, breathing exercises and hypnosis may also help, but do not have enough evidence to say with certainty that they are safe and effective.

Managing your symptoms is a team effort. If you would like a review of your asthma management plan, talk with your GP to discuss what could work for you.

 

Click here to book an appointment with a GP to discuss asthma management –>

 

A Painful Subject – Living With Chronic Pain

By | Chronic Disease, Chronic Pain

A Painful Subject – Living With Chronic Pain

 

Acute (or short-term) pain is a normal function of our nervous system, meant to let us know that something is wrong and to hopefully encourage us to fix the problem. Chronic pain is pain that stays for the long term. Even though it is very common – one in five Australians live with chronic pain – people who have this condition can feel isolated and misunderstood. Here are three areas of life with chronic pain that we should talk about.

  1. Sometimes, acute pain can turn chronic

Some conditions have chronic pain as a common symptom; for example, osteoporosis, arthritis, and migraines. Pain as the result of an injury or condition that lasts beyond the expected healing time can also become chronic (or on-going).  For example, if a person had surgery, they would expect to feel some pain afterwards until the wound healed. However, if the wound had completely healed but the patient still had pain, it has become chronic. Often, delayed or incorrect treatment is the reason acute pain becomes chronic.

  1. People can feel pain even when there is no physical damage

Pain is a signal that is sent from the nervous system and interpreted by the brain. In some conditions such as nerve disorders, there is no physical damage that is causing the pain.  If acute pain is not correctly treated, the body can modify its nervous system to continue to send pain signals – even when the original problem is no longer there.

Not only can a person with chronic pain feel the same pain sensation as someone with physical damage, it can be much harder to treat because the issue can be with the nerve signals instead of a result of a treatable injury.

  1. Chronic pain often comes with social and mental issues

Because pain is not visible or measurable by other people, a person with chronic pain can feel misunderstood and unsupported by not only the people around them, but even by some medical professionals. Mental health issues are common in people with chronic pain. The rates of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse are much higher than in the general population.

 

Imagine being in pain every day. Maybe it’s worse on some days than others. When you first talk about your pain, people are sympathetic and understanding.  As the months stretch on, some friends, family and co-workers begin to lose interest or become frustrated with your inability to resume your normal activities. Many people bear the pain silently, or isolate themselves as a result.

 

Where someone has pain, it is very important that a pain management plan is developed as soon as possible. If you have experienced acute pain, stay in contact with your GP if you feel the pain is not resolving as quickly as expected. If you suffer from chronic pain, find a GP that will commit to working with you long-term to manage your symptoms. Pain is a serious condition that deserves to be prioritised, and there are many options available to help you manage symptoms.

 

Click here to book in with a GP to discuss pain management –>

6 Things You Need to Know About Multiple Sclerosis

By | Chronic Disease

6 Things You Need to Know About Multiple Sclerosis

It’s time for some Multiple Sclerosis awareness! Around 2.3 million people are diagnosed with MS worldwide, and one in twenty Australians will be affected by MS in their lifetime – either personally or through a family member or friend. But what is MS, and how does it affect the people who have it?

  1. MS starts with a dysfunctional immune system.

If an electrical cord loses its plastic coating, the exposed wires are dangerous and can’t function as intended. Multiple Sclerosis happens when a person’s own immune system starts eating away at the protective coating around their nerves, called the myelin sheath. This means that the nerve signals start getting interrupted, which causes a wide range of symptoms.

  1. MS looks different for everybody.

Symptoms depend on which part of the nervous system is attacked by the immune system, and how bad the damage is. The two main ways the symptoms occur is in a relapsing-remitting form, where people with MS have symptoms that improve (sometimes almost completely) and then return; or the progressive form, where people get gradually worse.

  1. There is a wide range of symptoms.

There are 5 main areas that people with MS are affected:

  • Neuro-psychological symptoms – MS can cause difficulties with memory, depression, trouble with thought processes, and interfere with other brain processes.
  • Motor control – loss of control over muscles sometimes results in weakness and reduced function in limbs. Some people with MS can struggle with their balance and coordination.
  • Fatigue – people with MS sometimes struggle with feeling tired and lethargic, and occasionally can have sensitivity to heat.
  • Continence problems – Some people with MS might struggle to hold on to their urine, or might have constipation or other bowel-related issues.
  • Neurological issues – some neurological issues might include feelings of dizziness and vertigo, pins and needles, and issues with eyes.
  1. It often affects young, otherwise healthy people.

While Multiple Sclerosis can happen at any age, most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 – 40. MS occurs in women about twice as often as in men. There does appear to be some genetic link, as the odds of having MS are increased if a family member has also been diagnosed. Some researchers have linked viral infections with relapsing of symptoms.

  1. It’s currently incurable.

Treatments for MS focus around managing symptoms and shortening the attacks, as we currently have no way to cure the condition. The most common types of medication used are immunotherapy drugs, corticosteroids, or direct treatments for symptoms. The aim is to help slow down the rate that the disease progresses, and ease symptoms.

  1. There are a lot of costs associated with helping MS patients and researchers.

Aside from medication, there is a range of treatments and professionals who can help a person with Multiple Sclerosis. People with MS might benefit from physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, nurses, social workers, eye specialists, or neuropsychological therapists who can help with symptoms that affect the brain. Research is ongoing and focuses on developing treatments for symptoms and finding a cure.

 

If you would to discuss MS further, or if you have any concerns about symptoms that you or someone you know is experiencing, talk to your GP. You can click here to book an appointment.

Clearing the Air – 4 Common Misconceptions about Asthma

By | Asthma, Chronic Disease

Clearing the Air – 4 Common Misconceptions about Asthma

 

 

World Asthma Day is a great opportunity to highlight the campaigns around the world that educate people about asthma, and to recognise the 1 in 9 Australians of all ages and ethnicities who live with this condition every day. Sadly, there is a lot of false information around about this condition. Let’s look at some common misconceptions about asthma.

Is asthma just an allergic reaction?

Asthma is a long-term lung condition that is caused by sensitive airways, not normally an allergic reaction (although allergy-induced asthma does occur). People can have their asthma triggered by common allergens such as pollen, dust mites or air pollution – but other triggers can also include exercise and cold air. Each person is different.

People with asthma can’t breathe properly, right?

When the sensitive airways of someone with asthma are exposed to a range of “triggers”, the muscles around the airways tighten up and they produce more mucous, making it much harder to breathe. When this occurs, we call it an “asthma attack”. A person with asthma who is not having an attack still has sensitive airways, but most often they breathe quite normally. With medication and good management, many people with asthma are able to live normal lives.

All asthma attacks look the same, don’t they?

Most asthma attacks include a range of different symptoms like tightening of the chest, troubled breathing, coughing and wheezing – some attacks bring up mucous, some don’t. Asthma attacks can worsen over weeks or occur in minutes. Asthma attacks are often different for the same person! Even the meaning of the word “attack” can change – for some people it might mean some difficulty breathing, while in others it means hospitalisation.

Doesn’t asthma go away as you get older? Can’t it be cured?

Sadly, asthma is a life-long condition, although it often does start in childhood. There is no cure, but there are a range of medications that can help keep asthma under control. Even during a bad attack, the tightness in the airways is almost always reversible with medical attention. Each person with asthma should work with their GP and specialists to develop their own plan for managing their asthma and avoiding attacks.

There are many excellent resources that can provide more information about asthma and asthma management. If you suspect that someone might have asthma, talk to your GP. If you have already been diagnosed, your GP can discuss different management strategies that can help you to take control of your asthma symptoms.

 

Click here to book in and discuss Asthma with a GP –>

It’s World Cancer Day – so let’s talk about cancer.

By | Cancer, Chronic Disease

It’s World Cancer Day – so let’s talk about cancer.

Sadly, the incidence of deaths from cancer each year is very high – at 8.2 million people. The aim of World Cancer Day (February 4) is to unite the world in the fight against cancer, in order to prevent millions of deaths each year.

What is cancer?

Cancer is an abnormal cell growth. Normally our body’s cells grow, divide and die. In a cancer this doesn’t happen in the usual way. This can form a lump called a tumour, or cause the blood of lymph fluid in the body to become abnormal.

Are there different kinds of tumours?

Yes there are. You may have heard of the term malignant and benign. A benign tumour is where the cells are confined in one location and are unable to spread throughout the body – this type of cell is not cancerous. The other type, malignant, is cancerous, as the cells are able to spread by travelling through the blood or lymph system.

How does cancer spread?

A localized cancer is one that hasn’t spread. The first spot that a cancer grows in is called the primary cancer. If cancer cells form at another site this is called a secondary cancer or a metastasis.

What kind of cancers can be screened for?

Screening is a process of working out someone’s risk of developing a particular disease. The benefit of screening, is that it can detect cancers at a very early stage. Screening looks at signs of cancer before it has developed or symptoms have started.

At a particular age, every at risk person should be screened for breast cancer, cervical cancer and bowel cancer as part of the Australian screening program.

  • Breast cancer screening is offered for women aged 50-74
  • Bowel cancer screening is also for people aged 50-74 and the test can be completed in the privacy of your home
  • Cervical screening, in the form of pap testing, is used to detect cervical cancer. All women between the age of 18 and 69 who have ever been sexually active should have regular pap tests.

In addition, people at high risk of certain cancers, such as lung cancer, can receive screening for these.

How can I reduce my cancer risk?

The major things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer are to:

  1. Maintain a healthy body weight
  2. Eat well and have an active lifestyle
  3. Limit alcohol
  4. Protect your skin from the sun and other forms of UV (such as tanning beds)
  5. Be a non-smoker and avoid second hand smoke 

What do I do if I am worried about cancer, or would like to be screened for cancer?

If you are concerned about having cancer, speak to someone, such as a GP, as soon as possible. Additionally, if you would like to be screened, you can book in with a GP who can arrange any necessary tests for you, and talk to you about any concerns you may have.

 

Click here to book an appointment with a GP to discuss cancer and/or screening –>

Everything you need to know about PCOS

By | Chronic Disease, Women's Health

Everything you need to know about PCOS

What is PCOS?

PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is a complex hormonal disorder, that can be difficult to diagnose. The reason it is so complex, is that there are a number of symptoms, and you don’t need all of them to be diagnosed with PCOS. In fact, different women with PCOS may have different symptoms. Further, the name is slightly misleading, because ‘polycystic’ suggests there may be multiple ‘cysts’ on the ovaries. However, not everyone with PCOS has ‘cysts’ and not everyone with ‘cysts’ will have PCOS. Not only that, but using the word ‘cysts’ isn’t completely accurate either, because what is being referred to are actually partially formed follicles which contain an egg. Phew!

So now that we have gotten that out of the way, you probably want to know a bit more about the symptoms of PCOS and why the symptoms occur in the first place.

 

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of PCOS can include the following:

  • Excess hair on the face and body
  • Hair loss
  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulties with fertility
  • Increased anxiety and depression
  • Symptoms associated with periods – such as irregular or no periods, or heavier or lighter bleeding during periods.

 

Why do the symptoms occur?

The main culprit causing many of the symptoms of PCOS is having high levels of androgens in the body. Androgens are a group of hormones, including testosterone. Under normal conditions, all women produce some androgens from the ovaries and adrenal gland. However, in PCOS, higher levels of androgens are prevalent, which can prevent ovulation and also disrupt the monthly menstrual cycle. The actual cause of PCOS is unknown, but there appears to be some connection with family history, insulin resistance and lifestyle.

 

The weight/insulin/PCOS cycle

For some women, being overweight and suffering from PCOS can go hand in hand, as being overweight can make insulin resistance and PCOS symptoms worse. This is because the more abdominal fat in the body, the more likely that insulin resistance will be present, causing the pancreas to potentially release more insulin. The more insulin released, the more the ovary is likely to produce excess androgens. This may all sound a bit overwhelming, but the important take home point, is that through lifestyle modifications you may be able to make a real impact on your PCOS symptoms. This is because insulin resistance is often partly caused by lifestyle factors, such as being over weight, having a diet high in sugar and fat or being physically inactive.

 

What can be done to treat my PCOS symptoms?

There are many different options for treatment of PCOS and PCOS symptoms. One of the main strategies likely to be discussed between you and your doctor will be a healthy diet and physical activity. Your GP may also discuss options of various medications with you, such as the oral contraceptive pill, or medications for insulin sensitivity or to lower testosterone levels. Each patient will be different and there won’t be a one size fits all, so it’s important to have these detailed discussions and come up with a tailored action plan for you.

 

Click here if you need to speak with a GP about PCOS –>

Skin cancer, skin checks and moles – oh my!

By | Cancer, Chronic Disease, Skin

Skin cancer, skin checks and moles – oh my! 

Why is skin cancer an issue?

  • 2/3 australians are diagnosed with skin cancer by 70!
  • More than 2000 people in Australia die from skin cancer each year and
  • The Cancer Council estimates that Australia spends more than $1 billion per year treating skin cancer, with costs increasing substantially over the past few years.

Preventing skin cancer

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

It’s just so easy to accidentally damage your skin. Even if you don’t intend to obtain a sun-tan, many Aussies often report that they have suntanned skin. This could be from very basic activities such as mowing your lawn, doing the gardening, having a barbecue, playing sports or going for a walk down the Berwick High Street! Even just passive recreation around the home can put you at risk of developing cancerous moles, if you don’t take proper steps to protect yourself.

It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor about your level of risk and for advice on early detection.

How to perform a skin check on yourself

Getting to know your skin and picking up on changes is one of the keys to reducing your skin cancer risk. This is because skin cancers rarely hurt and are more frequently seen than felt.

To check your skin, do the following regularly:

  • Make sure you check your entire body as skin cancers can sometimes occur in parts of the body not exposed to the sun, for example soles of the feet, between fingers and toes and under nails.
  • Undress completely and make sure you have good light.
  • Use a mirror to check hard to see spots, like your back and scalp, or get a family member, partner or friend to check it for you.

 

What should you look for?

  • New spots
  • Changes to existing freckles or moles

There are three main types of skin cancer- melanoma (including nodular melanoma), basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Melanoma

Melanoma

 

  • Most deadly form of skin cancer.
  • If left untreated can spread to other parts of the body.
  • Appears as a new spot or an existing spot that changes in colour, size or shape.
  • Can appear on skin not normally exposed to the sun.

 

Nodular melanoma

Nodular melanoma

  • Grows quickly.
  • Looks different from common melanomas. Raised and even in colour.
  • Many are red or pink and some are brown or black.
  • They are firm to touch and dome-shaped.
  • After a while they begin to bleed and crust.

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma

  • Most common, least dangerous form of skin cancer.
  • Red, pale or pearly in colour, appears as a lump or dry, scaly area.
  • May ulcerate or fail to completely heal.
  • Grows slowly, usually on areas that are often exposed to the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma

  • A thickened, red scaly spot that may bleed easily, crust or ulcerate.
  • Grows over some months, usually on areas often exposed to the sun.
  • More likely to occur in people over 50 years of age.

 

 

 

What do I do if I notice changes?

Your GP will be able to assess any moles or changes in colour to anything on your skin and advise on the next steps. Your GP may recommend that they perform a mole removal procedure, or that they take a biopsy to check whether your mole is cancerous or not.

What is a mole removal procedure?

If your doctor does recommend a procedure, these can typically be performed by your GP in the treatment room of the medical centre. Usually the appointment would go for about half an hour, and involve the GP with the help of the practice nurse making you comfortable, applying anaesthetic and then removing or taking a biopsy of the area in question. You would then return for the follow up of results, and for the doctor to continue to monitor you.

What if I don’t want to or can’t do the skin check myself?

Your GP should be more than happy to perform a skin check for you. This is typically a half hour appointment, which involves your GP assessing all areas of your skin and examining any existing moles or freckles with a device called a dermatoscope.

HealthMint offers skin checks and mole removal in our practice located near the border of Berwick, Narre Warren South and Cranbourne. If in doubt – come on in for a skin check. We’ve had many experiences where people have come in for a completely unrelated issue and our doctors have picked up and removed cancerous moles. With summer approaching, now is the perfect time to have those moles or freckles looked at, it’s just not worth the risk of leaving them unchecked![/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Eyes on Diabetes

By | Chronic Disease, Diabetes

Eyes on Diabetes

Why Diabetes Screening is so Importantwhat-is-diabetes

 

The 2016 theme for world diabetes day is ‘Eyes on Diabetes’ which promotes screening and obtaining early diagnoses of Type 2 Diabetes. This is so important because a massive 1 in 2 adults with diabetes are undiagnosed!

In support of keeping an eye on diabetes, we wanted to explain the symptoms, risks and screening process to inform as many people as possible on just how simple it is to be screened for diabetes.

 

What actually is type 2 diabetes?

As we consume food, it goes through a process of being absorbed by the body. This involves the sugars being broken down and entering our blood stream. In order to combat the spike in blood sugar levels, the pancreas produces Insulin. Type 2 diabetes is where the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin and/or the body’s cells do not respond to insulin effectively. This results in a prolonged increase of blood sugar levels, which is dangerous of allowed to continue for an extended period of time.

 

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of diabetes are typically:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent urination
  • Lack of energy
  • Blurred vision

 

Am I at risk of diabetes?

There are a number of factors that may put you at risk of diabetes – some of the ones to look out for are:

  • Weight
  • Inactivity
  • Family history
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • High blood pressure
  • Age

 

How can I check if I’m at risk of diabetes?

Getting screened for diabetes is the best thing to do if you believe you are at risk of diabetes. Your GP will be able to arrange screening for you, and arrange care if you are diagnosed with diabetes. Even if you don’t have diabetes, but do have some of the risk factors, your GP will be able to help you to improve your overall health and decrease your risk of developing diabetes.

 

What if I already have diabetes?

In order to prevent or delay complications, you will want to keep three things as close to normal as possible:

  1. Blood glucose levels
  2. Blood pressure
  3. Cholesterol levels

 

What can my GP do for me if I have diabetes?

Your GP will be able to help you monitor and stay on top of your condition, by preventing complications. They may prescribe certain medications and refer you to specialists and allied health professionals in order to monitor your feet, eyes and help you to lose weight.

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