October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. While Pinktober activities enliven workplaces all over New Zealand, there is a serious message about breast health underlying all the revelry.
Pinktober is fuelled by concern about the prevalence of breast cancer – on average, eight women every day will be diagnosed with the disease. Yet one fact we have learned is that early detection and prompt treatment saves lives. We can provide the expert medical care; early detection is in your hands.
We’d love more success stories, arising from more women being aware of their breast health and acting quickly when changes are noted. “Our workforce at Grace Hospital is largely female and extremely supportive of encouraging women to check their breasts regularly,” explained Janet Keys, the General Manager of Grace Hospital. She goes on to say that the staff members enjoy taking part in community initiatives to raise awareness of breast health. The decorated bras they wore in the Breast Walk recently were flamboyant and colourful, radiating a positive attitude towards breast health. But underneath the fun and brightness was a sincere desire that women take their breast health seriously.
“Here at Grace Hospital, we want the best outcome for you, not only as health professionals, but also as mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, husbands, sons and fathers” commented Keys.
Grace Hospital treats three to four breast cancer patients every month. We know that the early treatment of breast cancer by skillful surgeons and oncologists saves women’s lives. Breast cancer is more likely to be successfully treated when it is discovered early. Finding breast cancer early depends upon your personal vigilance, talking to your doctor about any changes in your breasts, and regular mammograms as part of a programme of prevention. Regular mammograms find cancers well before they would be discovered by normal breast checks, leading to successful, less invasive treatment. And that makes us as happy as it does our patients and their families.
The Breast Cancer Foundation recommends three steps:
1.Have a regular screening mammogram from the age of 40
2.Know your breasts from the age of 20
3.Talk to your family doctor about any changes you find.
Click here to view their useful video on breast self examination.
Regular screening mammogram
The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation recommends that women begin regular mammograms at 40 years of age. These are free from the age of 45 for women who enrol on the national database. If you haven’t already done so, you can enrol by ringing 0800 270 200.
Breast examination as part of your weekly routine
It can be easy to overlook the first line of defence against breast cancer – making breast examination part of your routine makes it easier to remember. Link this to some regular part of your hygiene routine, such as washing your hair. Stand in front of the mirror with your arms at your sides and examine your breasts for any changes; then put your hands on your hips with your shoulders leaning forward while you check for changes; raising your arms above your head, check again for dimples, changes in breast size or shape, skin texture or colour. Be sure to check your nipples for any changes too.
Then, in the shower, with soapy hands, feel your breast tissue from top to bottom, and centre to side. Finish by pressing firmly into your armpit, feeling for any lumps or changes, week by week.
Ask your doctor to check your breasts for you
Breast lumps and changes are not necessarily cancerous; ask your GP to check for you if you notice changes. If you haven’t had a breast check recently, either make an appointment to have one, or when making your next appointment with your doctor, ask that it include a breast check.
Similarly, urge your sister, mother, daughter or friend to make a doctor’s appointment if she finds any untoward changes in breast tissue.
Vigilance is your simplest form of protection; your doctor and screening mammograms are your safeguards. Make the best use of these, and take quick action if you are anxious about any changes you notice. In the unlikely event that a change in your breasts does lead to treatment being required, you will have given yourself a head start for a successful outcome. And that’s very good news for your family, friends and medical staff.