November 30, 2012

Who gets breast cancer?

Anyone with breast tissue can suffer from breast cancer, it even affects men. Women of every age are at risk, even including young women in their 20s or 30s. It doesn’t matter what race or culture you are, all groups suffer from breast cancer. Women of all walks of life are at risk, whether rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, insured or uninsured. It is important to remember that three-quarters of women who get breast cancer were not at increased risk, and we don’t fully understand why different women get cancer yet. Even if you have risk factors, it only highlights the need to be careful and check your breasts regularly. It does not mean you are going to get breast cancer.

How can I check for breast cancer?

Early detection is the key to better outcome with breast cancer. Studies have shown that it is possible to reduce the number of women dying from breast cancer by 45% using very simple measures. These include understanding your risk of having breast cancer based on your personal and family history, and being screened regularly for breast cancer.

If a cancer is picked up very early, the risk of spread is low and there is more likelihood it can be treated with simple measure such as surgery. The later a cancer is picked up, the more aggressive treatment has to be, and the higher the likelihood of dying from the cancer.

There are many measures you can take to pick up cancer early and decrease your risk of dying. Women should also make a habit of checking their breasts for any abnormalities or changes at the same time every month (and this doesn’t have to be a solitary task- partners can help too!) and seeing a family doctor or breast specialist every six months for a clinical check. Every woman should go for mammography each year after her 40th birthday and we find that in addition, a breast sonar at the same time increases the pick-up rate of abnormalities.

What if I feel something?

Even having a lump in the breast doesn’t mean you have cancer but it does mean you need to get your breasts checked out. There are many reasons women feel lumps in the breast, the most serious are breast cancer but that isn’t the only cause. The breast is made up of a mixture of milk tissue and fat tissue and, depending on how close you are to your period, your breasts sometimes might feel more lumpy than normal, or sometimes you might feel a separate lump. Most lumps are not cancer and often do not need to be taken out.

It is difficult (even for doctors) to feel the difference between a lump that is normal and breast cancer, so it is really important to get a doctor who knows about breast problems to examine you. At the same time you should also have an ultrasound scan (and a mammogram when you are over 35 years old), which both help see inside the breast and make double certain that everything is OK.

Simple measure can reap great rewards. Getting to know your breasts and getting into the habit of checking them regularly is important. Consider booking your next mammogram and sonar for the week after your birthday- that way you will be reminded every year that it is time for a check-up!