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.