Breast cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer in Australia. Women of all ages should know the steps to detect breast cancer. Early diagnosis means more treatment options and better chances of survival.
What is breast cancer?
Breasts are made up of ducts and lobules that are surrounded by connective and fatty tissue. The lobules are what produce the breast milk, and the ducts carry this milk to the nipple. Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the breast tissue. It occurs when abnormal cells mutate in the breast. It can develop at any age and is more common in women than men.
There are 3 main steps to becoming breast cancer aware:
- Know your breasts by the way they look and feel
- Book an appointment to see your doctor if you have any concerns
- Have a mammogram every 2 years if you are aged between 40 and 74
Breast changes to look out for include:
- Lumps or lumpiness in the breast
- Change in shape or size of the breast
- Puckering of the breast skin or changes to the nipple, such as crusting, redness or inversion
- Nipple discharge (unrelated to breastfeeding)
- Rash or Redness
- Persistent pain
To perform a self-examination of your breast:
- Start by looking in the mirror and look for any changes that are not ‘normal’ for you.
- Lay down and begin feeling your breasts using 2 fingers to feel the entire breast from your abdomen to your collarbone and armpit.
- Use a circular motion, ensuring that you feel the entire breast as well as the nipple.
- Repeat these steps on the other side.
These self-checks should be done regularly; let your doctor know if you notice any changes.
Reduce your chances of breast cancer
As women, our chances of developing breast cancer are significantly higher than men. A family history of breast or ovarian cancer also increases risk, as does older age. 1 in 7 Australian women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. You can aim to reduce your risk of breast cancer by making healthy lifestyle choices.
Changes you can make right now include:
- Limiting your alcohol intake can decrease your risk of breast cancer. The more you drink, the more significant the risk is. Limiting your alcohol intake to 1 standard drink a day is best.
- Healthy weight range. Aim for a Body Mass Index (BMI) range of 18.5 to 25 and a waist circumference below 80 cm.
- Exercise has been shown to reduce the chances of breast cancer. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity a day.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) containing both oestrogen and progestogen is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. You will require regular reviews with your doctor to manage it safely.
- Breastfeeding can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.
Women who are aged between 40 and 74 are eligible for free breast screens every two years. BreastScreen Australia offers free mammograms for women. You can make an appointment by calling BreastScreen on 13 20 50 or through their website.
Furthermore, the Peter MacCallum Cancer and Research Centre have developed a preventative screening tool to help women understand their risk of breast cancer. iPrevent™ is a risk management assessment you can take online. It facilitates prevention and encourages women to discuss breast screening with their doctors and other women to spread breast cancer awareness. You can access the assessment online through the Peter MacCallum website.
Valewood Clinic is dedicated to the prevention and awareness of breast cancer. If you would like to discuss any questions or concerns about breast cancer with your doctor, please call our friendly reception on (03) 9560 6655 to book an appointment.