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Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to increase awareness, research and education about breast cancer. With 12% of US women developing breast cancer over the course of their lives, there has never been a better time to learn about breast health.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and the second most common cancer overall. However, it’s important to note that all people, regardless of gender, are born with breast cells and breast tissue. This means that men can also develop breast cancer, though they account for less than one percent of all breast cancer cases.

What should I look out for?

  • Changes in size or shape of one or both breasts
  • Discharge from either nipple, which may be brown or streaked with blood
  • A lump, or swelling, in your underarms
  • Redness, irritation or dimpling of the breast skin or nipples
  • A change in the appearance of your nipples

Did you know that the size, shape and feel of your breasts can also be affected by your menstrual cycle? Tracking your symptoms can help you learn what is normal for you, and when to seek advice from your doctor.

Note: breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer and can be caused by changes in your menstrual cycle. However, if you’re experiencing breast pain that is more severe or lasts longer than usual, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your healthcare provider.

What are the risk factors?

  • Age - the risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age
  • A family history of breast cancer, ask your doctor to test for the breast cancer gene to see if you are affected
  • A previous diagnosis of breast cancer or previous benign lump
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Consuming alcohol

Being active, consuming less alcohol and not smoking have all been shown to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer.

How should you do a self exam?

A regular self exam can be a life saver, with all adult women being encouraged to check at least once per month. To examine your breasts, use the pads of your fingers to gently press on your breasts and armpits, in small circular motions, making sure to cover the entire breast.

Though it’s easier said than done, try not to panic if you find a lump. 8/10 lumps are not related to breast cancer. The best thing to do is chat to your healthcare provider about your concerns.

Breast cancer screening

Mammograms can play a key role in early detection, as they can detect tumors when they’re too small to be seen or felt. It is recommended that women over the age of 40 get a mammogram every year.

When you have a mammogram, your doctor will take X-ray images of your breasts, one at a time. The breast will be placed on the X-ray machine and compressed with a clear plate. The breasts are compressed in this way to improve the quality of your scan, and to reduce the amount of radiation you absorb from the X-ray. In general, two different X-rays will be taken of each breast from different angles

How is it treated?

Breast cancer can be treated in a variety of ways depending on its stage and how it was diagnosed. The most common treatments are:

  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Biological therapy

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you should be given a team of specialists to help administer either one or a combination of the above treatments.

You can learn more about the different treatments and their side effects here.

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, why not perform a self exam today? Better yet, remind a loved one to do it too!