According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, over 20,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia this year. Sadly, nine people lose their lives to the disease every day.
The good news is, the prognosis for breast cancer is good. More people are surviving than every before, with more than 90 per cent expected to survive at least five years post diagnosis.
But early detection is critical, says Breast Care Nurse, Jan Snowdon. We asked Jan to share with us her tips to ensure you stay on top of your breast health.
TSS: At what age should people start checking for signs of breast cancer?
JS: [Those in their] late teens and early twenties should get into the habit of checking their breasts, understanding what is normal and see their health care provider to report any changes.
TSS: What is the process and how often should it be done?
JS: This should be done at least once a month, [for menstruators] preferably not close to your menstrual cycle as your breasts can change at that time. It’s important to do it in front of a mirror so you understand what your breasts look like and will notice any visible changes. It can also be helpful to ask a partner to check for you as well.
TSS: What are the possible early signs of breast cancer?
JS: Some early signs that should be investigated include, nipple change, nipple discharge, change in shape, discomfort, pain, swelling, rash, dimpling of the skin, feeling a lump or lumps, firmer breasts, redness or inverted nipples.
TSS: Are there some signs that are missed more often than others?
JS: Many believe that breast cancer is simply a lump and if they don’t have a lump they are in the clear, really any change is a sign that should be investigated.
TSS: What if you are unsure, what should you do?
JS: Absolutely follow up with a GP (general practitioner) if you’re not happy with their response you need to advocate for yourself and find a second opinion.
TSS: What is the role of mammograms?
JS: A mammogram will look for any abnormalities in the breast, they look at density in the breast, tissue, fat, calcium and more. A mammogram is a baseline for a breast check. If something is found on a mammogram it does not mean it is cancer but it should be investigated.
Mammograms for routine screening are given from age 40 but if you have a family history of breast cancer you should have a mammogram 10 years prior to your first-degree relative’s diagnosis. For example, your mother was diagnosed at 37, you should have regular mammograms from age 27.