Breast Cancer

How to check your breasts

When you are checking your breasts, look at the size and shape of each breast and check for any lumps. Make sure you check your nipples and the skin on your breasts. Check each area for any pain when you are touching them, too. You might notice that your breasts feel different at different times in the month; it’s a good idea to become familiar with what’s normal for you during these times, so you can spot anything unusual.

What to look out for

• A change in the size or shape of your breast

• A change in the look or feel of your skin

• A new lump, thickening or bumpy area in one breast or armpit 

• Discharge or bleeding from your nipple

• Any new discomfort or pain in one breast that does not go away. 

How often should I be checking my breasts?

Try to get into the habit of checking your breasts regularly – as a general guide, aim for at least once a month. Find a suitable time that works for you; perhaps it’s after you have had a bath, when you are getting dressed or when you’re settling down for the evening. What is also important that you are aware of what’s normal for you and your body. You should be mindful that your breasts will change during your monthly cycle, pregnancy and menopause.

How early should you start checking for lumps?

Whilst there’s no specific age you should start checking your breasts, checking them from an early age will help you to become more aware of how they usually look and feel, and to help you spot any changes. If you’re over 50, you will be invited for a breast screening (mammogram). You are offered this screening every three years until you are 70. You should still be checking your breasts regularly – a breast screening shouldn’t replace your regular breast checks.

What should you do if you find a lump?

If you notice a lump in your breast, it is really important to get this checked by your doctor. A lump or change to the feel or appearance of your breasts should never be ignored. Whilst it may not be anything serious, it can help put your mind at ease to speak to your doctor about any changes you spot.

Are there any breast abnormalities to look out for that may not be cancer?

Your breasts will change naturally each month and as you get older, and they may feel tender, heavy or lumpy at the end of your monthly cycle. These changes should normalise once your period starts. It is easier to check your breasts regularly outside of your monthly cycle. If you are pregnant, your breasts will change while your baby is developing to get ready for breastfeeding, which means they may get bigger and feel sore and tender. When you reach the menopause, the amount of glandular tissue in your breasts reduces, because of the changes to your hormones. This can make your breasts feel different, and some women find they are softer and less firm. It’s really important that when you’re checking your breasts (make sure you’re checking the whole of your breast area), you are looking for any changes that feel different for you. It is best to speak to your GP about anything you are feeling unsure, worried or anxious about – as they’ll be able to help you.

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Breast Cancer

by Expat Life

by Dr. Donna Robinson

Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer. Breast cancer begins when normal cells in the breast start to change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumour. 

Most breast tumours (about 85 to 90%) are considered to be ductal carcinoma (invaded surrounding tissue). If the tumour is well contained and non-invasive, it is called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which means the cells haven’t spread or grown out of the breast ducts into surrounding tissue. DCIS is considered precancerous, and can usually be successfully treated. It is often found during a mammogram or as part of a routine breast cancer screening. If left untreated, DCIS can lead to cancer. About 43% of breast cancers are found as a lump during self-examination and about 57% are detected by mammogram.

Cancer causes the cells to multiply uncontrollably. This excessive cell growth causes cancer because the tumour uses nutrients and energy and deprives the cells around it. Breast cancer usually starts in the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply them with milk. From there, it can spread to other parts of the body. The first symptoms of breast cancer usually appear as an area of thickened tissue in the breast or a lump in the breast or armpit. Other symptoms may be pain or a rash around the breast and nipple area. A key to tackling breast cancer is catching it early. For example, one of our close friends R.Lemieux caught hers early the second time round which meant that the cancer hasn’t spread and can be easily treated. It is very crucial that us women follow up on all our checkups and screening as to detect, if any, symptoms of the cancer.

The exact cause of breast cancer still remains unclear, but some risk factors make it more likely. It is possible to prevent some of these risk factors.

Women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a higher chance of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or both. In some cases, like Angelina Jolie and one of our close friends Jayne who tested positive for the gene, can decide to be ‘proactive’ and opt for a double preventative mastectomy followed by a full hysterectomy (removal of uterus and ovaries) to minimise the risks. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear in almost everyone, making us feel vulnerable. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action.

Most women might be afraid of how the procedure might affect their appearance and lifestyle but let me assure you with Angelina Jolie’s own word: “I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity”, and that she made a quick recovery back into her “normal life” straight after.

Therefore I would like to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information from medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.

“Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of”.  Angelina Jolie

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