Breast cancer is the most common, and aggressive cancer in women, no matter the age or race. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.
Breast cancer statistics
Breast cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the UK and the leading cause of death in women under 50. It is estimated that one in seven females will be diagnosed with breast cancer within their lifetime.
According to the charity ‘Breast Cancer Now’, 11,500 woman and 85 men die each year from breast cancer. That’s one death every 45 minutes.
However, breast cancer survival rates are improving and have doubled in the last 40 years, with approximately 75.9% of women surviving for 10 years or more following a diagnosis. This statistic is backed up by the World Cancer Research Fund International who said: “Survival rates for breast cancer vary worldwide, but in general rates have improved. This is because breast cancer is diagnosed at an earlier and localised stage in nations where populations have access to medical care, and progressive improvement in treatment strategies. In many countries with advanced medical care, the five-year survival rate of early stage breast cancers is 80–90 per cent, falling to 24 per cent for breast cancers diagnosed at a more advanced stage.”
They also say that: “Breast cancer risk doubles each decade until menopause, after which the increase slows. However, breast cancer is more common after menopause.”
Your risk of developing breast cancer depends on many factors including age, genetics and exposure to external risk factors. Stephen F. Sener, MD, President of the American Cancer Society says: “Just because your mother didn’t have breast cancer, it doesn’t mean you are immune. At the same time, it’s also important to note that some women who have one or more risk factors never get breast cancer.”
That said, according to Cancer Research UK, 23% of breast cancer cases in the UK are preventable.
You may not be able to control where you live or your genetic risk factors, but you can improve your breast health and reduce the risk of breast cancer with a few simple lifestyle changes through diet, exercise and weight management.
Why it’s important to check your boobs
When it comes to breast cancer, early detection is vital. Early diagnosis is more treatable and your chances of survival are much higher.
However, boobs come in all shapes and sizes. Fact!
Only you know your own body, and by checking yourself on a regular basis, you will get to know what your breasts normally look like in size and shape and, more importantly what they feel like.
You need to learn what is normal for you. That way, you are more likely to be able to notice when something looks or feels a ‘bit off’ or unusual. At which point you should try and see your doctor as soon as possible and insist on a diagnosis.
In the UK, women are automatically offered breast screening checks by the NHS, which includes a mammogram, every three years from the age of 50 until they are 71. If you ‘go private’ you can have a mammogram at 40. I know, it was my 40th birthday present to myself!
However, you should start to get to know your boobs from early 20s and make regular self-examination a habit.
BREAST CANCER: What you need to look out for
When it comes to looking for anything unusual, the NHS advices contacting your doctor if you notice ANY of the following changes:
- A change in the size, outline or shape of your breast
- A change in the look or feel of your skin, such as puckering or dimpling
- A new lump, thickening or bumpy area in one breast or armpit that is different from the same area on the other side
- Nipple discharge that’s not milky
- Bleeding from your nipple
- A moist, red area on your nipple that doesn’t heal easily
- Any change in nipple position, such as your nipple being pulled in or pointing differently
- A rash on or around your nipple
- any discomfort or pain in one breast, particularly if it’s a new pain and doesn’t go away (although pain is only a symptom of breast cancer in rare cases)
For a quick guide, these lemons are also a handy reference:
How to check your breasts
Nuffield Health have a great step-by-step guide, copied below, and a video if you prefer.
Step 1 – Look
Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.
Here’s what you should see:
- Breasts that are their usual size, shape, and colour
- Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling
But if you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor’s attention:
- Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
- A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
- Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
Step 2 – Raise your arms
Look again at your breasts with your raise your arms above your head and look for the same changes.
Step 3 – Lean forward
Now, lean forward so that there is a pendulum affect in your breasts, look for any dimpling, puckering or bulging of the skin.
Step 4 – Fluids?
While you’re at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).
Step 5 – Feel lying down
Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast.
Use a firm, smooth touch with the first three finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion, about the size of a 2p coin. Check the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side — from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.
Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. You can also move your fingers up and down vertically, in rows, as if you were mowing a lawn. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women.
Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; for tissue in the middle of your breasts use medium pressure; and for the deep tissue in the back use firm pressure.
When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your rib cage.
Step 6 – Feel standing or sitting
Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting.
I hope you’ve found this article informative?
The best thing we, as women can do is to educate ourselves, become more breast aware and keep our emotions in perspective.
Until next time darlings.