October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting Australian women. In 2017, it is estimated that 17,586 women will be diagnosed.
This means that approximately 17,730 Australians will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, an average of 48 people every day.
Men also make up the above figure, although they account for a small number. In 2017, it is expected that 144 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
Everyone’s breasts look and feel different. You may have lumpy breasts, one breast larger than the other, breasts that are different shapes, or one or both nipples that are pulled in (inverted), which can be there from birth or happen when the breasts are developing.
Become familiar with the normal look and feel of your breasts. There’s no right or wrong way to check your breasts for any changes. Try to get used to looking at and feeling your breasts regularly. You can do this in the bath or shower, when you use body lotion, or when you get dressed. Just decide what you are comfortable with and what suits you best.
Remember to check all parts of your breast, your armpits and up to your collarbone.
When you check your breasts, try to be aware of any changes that are different for you.
Know what to look for
“I felt a lump,” is a common phrase for those who have had a breast cancer diagnosis, but there are many others symptoms or warning signs to watch for:
A new lump in your breast or underarm (armpit)
Thickening or swelling of part of your breast
Irritation or dimpling of your breast skin
Redness or flaky skin in your nipple area or your breast
Pulling in of your nipple or pain in your nipple area
Nipple discharge other than breast milk
Any change in the size or the shape of your breast
Pain in any area of your breast
Don’t delay – Most breast changes are not likely to be breast cancer. However, if you find a change in your breast that’s unusual for you, see your doctor without delay.
Main risk factors
The main risk factors for breast cancer are the ones you can’t change:
Being a woman – Being a woman is the single biggest risk factor for developing breast cancer.
Getting older – As with many other diseases, your risk of breast cancer increase as you get older. Although breast cancer occurs in younger women, the majority of breast cancers occur after menopause. About 3 out of 4 of breast cancer cases occur in women 50 years and over.
Having a strong family history of breast cancer – You may be surprised to know that 90-95% of all breast cancers have nothing to do with family history. However, having one or more first-degree relatives or second-degree relatives on the same side of the family with breast cancer increases your risk.
Inheriting a faulty gene that increases the risk – Around 5-10% of breast cancers occur in women whose families have a gene mutation that is passed down through the family and puts them at greater risk of developing breast cancer.
The BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are two mutations known to be associated with hereditary breast cancer. Women who carry these mutations can also be at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Other risk factors
There are other known risk factors for breast cancer which are listed below. The good news is that you can change most of these by making healthy lifestyle choices. For some advice on doing this, talk to your doctor.
Being overweight or obese
Personal history of early breast cancer
There are also a number of non-invasive breast conditions that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. These include ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) and atypical ductal hyperplasia (a type of benign breast condition).
Having dense breasts
Radiation to chest or face before age 30
Pregnancy history – Women who haven’t had a full-term pregnancy or who have their first child after age 30 have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who gave birth before age 30.
Menstrual history – Women who started menstruating (having periods) younger than age 12 have a higher risk of breast cancer later in life. The same is true for women who go through menopause when they’re older than 55.
Using the oral contraceptive pill – A number of studies link the use of the oral contraceptive pill with a higher risk of breast cancer, especially among younger women. However, these studies also showed that this risk reduces over time once you stop taking the pill.
Using HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) – Studies have shown that current or recent past users of HRT have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. However, these studies also showed that this risk reduces over time once you stop.
Breast Cancer Network Australia – www.bcna.org.au