This October, people around the country partake in Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Held every year, this campaign is aimed at increasing awareness of a disease that affects families throughout the world. With 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, this is a disease that has likely hit close to home with mothers, sisters, friends, daughters and co-workers being affected.
While breast cancer is not preventable, there are still some steps we can all be taking to minimise fatalities and support women. The first step is education.
A few things you should know
Being educated on what to look out for, the process of detection and treatment options can assist women to recognise signs early and seek help from a doctor. Here are some things you need to know about the disease.
Everybody should know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer. If you do find an abnormality, please seek advice from a health care professional.
Most people will notice one or two of the following symptoms initially, however these signs and symptoms do not automatically mean a person has breast cancer.
Change in how the breast or nipple feels – this includes thickening or lumps in or near the breast or underarm area, and nipple tenderness. A change in texture can also be noticed and can sometimes be described as feeling similar to an orange peel.
Change in how the breast or nipple looks – changes may be in terms of size or shape, the breast may swell or shrink and this is especially troublesome if happening on one side only (please keep in mind most women will have a breast that is slightly larger than the other, it is the appearance of recent asymmetry that we discuss here). Dimpling anywhere on the breast, nipples that turn inward or become inverted and skin that becomes red, swollen or scaly should also be checked.
Nipple discharge – women should consult their doctor when they experience any abnormal discharge, but in the case of breast cancer we pay particular attention to clear or bloody discharge.
In order to recognise the signs and symptoms, it’s important for women to become familiar with their bodies and perform regular self-exams. It is recommended that women, no matter their age, perform a self-exam every month. By becoming familiar with how your breasts look and feel, you are in the position to notice changes and alert a healthcare professional early.
There are three ways these self-exams are done:
In the shower: Move around the breast in circular motions, starting from the outside to the centre, using the pads of your fingers. Check for thickening, knots and lumps.
Standing in front of a mirror: This helps you determine any visual changes. Visually inspect your breast while standing three ways: arms at sides, arms overhead and palms on hips and pressed firmly (this flexes the muscles in your chest). Look for changes in the nipples, dimpling of your skin, changes in the contour or changes that occur on one side.
Lying down: Place a pillow under your right shoulder and raise your right arm behind your head. Use your left hand to inspect the right breast (including armpit) using circular motions. First use light pressure, then medium and then firm. Squeeze the nipple to check for lumps and discharge. Repeat on left side.
If you do find a lump, make an appointment with your healthcare professional. In the meantime, try not to panic as 8 out of 10 lumps turn out to be non-cancerous.
Remember, self-exams are important to detect any changes but women cannot rely on these alone. Mammograms are still vital as they can detect tumours before they can be felt.
If you would like more information or are concerned ab