To help support Breast Cancer Awareness Month throughout October, we wanted to highlight the importance of regular breast checks and raise awareness of the symptoms to keep an eye out for, as well as some factors that may increase risk. Arming ourselves and our family and friends with knowledge is a powerful weapon to fight against this common cancer.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
Early detection of breast cancer can lead to much more effective treatment, so staying vigilant through monitoring your breasts while simultaneously knowing exactly what to watch out for is very important.
The key is being aware of how your breasts normally look and checking them regularly. Everyone is different, so there’s no way to define what’s ‘normal’ – and they can even change during your menstrual cycle. Checking your breasts regularly to understand YOUR normal in terms of feel and appearance both during and outside of your cycle, will assist in the early detection of any changes such as:
- A new lump/lumps or thickening of tissue in the breast or underarm
- Redness, puckering or dimpling of breast skin
- Unusual nipple discharge, bleeding from nipple
- Nipple rash and/or sores
- Appearance change of nipple, e.g. inversion
- Unusual, persistent pain
If you notice any of these changes, please speak with your healthcare professional as soon as possible.
What are the causes/risk factors of breast cancer?
Some possible causes of breast cancer that are, unfortunately, outside of your control may include:
- Family history
- Increasing age
- Gender (women 100 times more likely[i])
- Previous diagnosis of breast cancer
- Inheriting defective BRCA1, BRCA2, and/or CHEK2 genes
- Longer exposure to oestrogen (beginning menstruation before 12 and/or going through menopause later, i.e. 55+)
In addition to the above, there are many different lifestyle factors that you can make changes to in order to reduce your risk:
- Alcohol consumption
- Being overweight/obese
- Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – though once stopped, the risk associated with this reduces over time. Speak with your GP for further information.
As stated previously, early detection could make a big difference in how effective the treatment is.
For all women aged between 50 and 74 years (even without symptoms), BreastScreen Australia recommends a screening mammogram once every two years – and it’s free! Women 40 to 49 or 75 and over should talk with their GP to determine whether they need one (also free).
If you fall outside these age brackets and:
- Your family history shows high susceptibility to breast cancer/ovarian cancer
- Have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the past five years
- Are showing any of the previously-mentioned symptoms
Please consult with your healthcare professional as soon as you can.
What can I do to possibly reduce the risk of breast cancer?
Further to scheduled screenings, you can consider making changes to your daily life that might help to reduce the risk:
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Stopping smoking
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a balanced diet
Where can I find out more information?
Speak with your GP if you’d like to learn more.