October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

by Expat Life

By Jane Crowder

Bangkok Breast Cancer Support Group

Life in Bangkok over the last 5 months has been challenging, uncertain and sometimes stressful. During this time our health focus may have altered and become more Covid-19 orientated. Despite these challenging times it is crucial that we don’t forget about our general health. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a good reminder to check that our screening appointments are up to date.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common type of female cancer; 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed during their lifetime. These numbers are increasing globally… we are living longer but unhealthy lifestyle choices are also contributing to the increase. However early detection and improved treatments mean that fewer women are now dying from breast cancer. Our risk increases as we get older but women of any age can be affected.

Breast awareness

Breasts come in all shapes and sizes; they all look and feel very different.

Breast awareness is important for all women over the age of 20 years, this includes pregnant women and mums who are breastfeeding. Breast self-examination (BSE) whilst not a substitute for breast cancer screening enables women to become familiar with their normal.  Breast self-exams should be done monthly, ideally a few days after your period has finished when your breasts are less tender. Menopausal women… choose a date, which is easy to remember i.e. the first day of each month.

Rear view of a group of diverse woman friends walking together

Follow these 4 steps:

STEP 1

Stand in front of a mirror and with your hands by your side.

Look for: Any breast changes i.e. shape or size

     Irritation or dimpling of the skin

     Redness or flaky skin on your nipple

STEP 2

Still standing in front of a mirror, now raise your hands above your head and then clasp your hands behind your head.

Look for: any discharge from the nipple other than breast milk

STEP 3

Lying flat on your back with your right arm behind your head.

With your opposite hand and the pads of your 3 middle fingers and medium pressure feel the whole breast area, this includes the underarm, up to the collarbone and below each breast.

Repeat with the left side.

Feel for: Any lumps

                 Thickening or swelling

                 Pain

STEP 4

In the shower, your breasts are easier to examine when wet and soapy, raise one arm above your head and repeat step 3.

Feel for: Lumps

                 Thickening or swelling

                 Pain.

If you detect any changes, don’t panic! Most will not be cancerous. However it is still important to have these changes evaluated by your GP, any persistent changes must be investigated, normally with a mammogram or an ultrasound. This also includes women who have had a recent mammogram with normal results.  

Breast screening

Regular breast screening with mammography and ultrasound are the most reliable way of detecting early stage breast cancer. Breast cancer when diagnosed at an early stage is easier to treat and has a better prognosis.

Do you have a breast screening strategy?

The American Cancer Society has the following recommendation:

Women at average risk, this includes women with no personal history of breast cancer, no confirmed or suspected genetic mutation (BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene) or no previous radiotherapy at a young age to the chest area.

Women aged between 40-44: should be given the option to have annual mammograms.

Women aged between 45-54: annual mammograms

Women aged 55+: can switch to biannual mammograms, but should be given the option to continue with annual screening.

Screening should continue as long as a women is experiencing good health.

Women who fall into the high risk category, starting from an earlier age should be offered additional screening with MRI.

See your GP to discuss your risk and screening preferences.

Good quality mammograms and ultrasounds are crucial for an accurate diagnosis; these are available at the large, well known hospitals in Bangkok.  

There is now evidence to suggest that we can reduce our risk of developing breast cancer and a number of other cancers by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

This includes: Having a healthy body weight

                            Eating a well balanced diet

                            Regular exercise

                            Having a low alcohol intake

                            Quit smoking

If you are currently taking combined oestrogen and progestin hormone replacement therapy (HRT)… your GP should be reassessing your use every 6-12 months.

Finally there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding breast cancer. Here are a few. You cannot get breast cancer from:

Wearing an underwired or tight fitting bra

Using antiperspirants or deodorant

Abortion or miscarriage

Breast implants

Bumps and knocks to the breast

Breast cancer cannot be treated with natural/traditional medicines.

The Bangkok Breast Cancer Support Group is affiliated with The Queen Sirikit Centre for Breast Cancer. Our small group of volunteers consist of healthcare professionals and breast cancer survivors. We offer compassion, emotional support and up to date, evidence-based information. If you, a family member or friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer or you just want more breast cancer information, we would love to chat.

Please contact us on:

   

M: Raymonde 085 810 8208

                                                        E: [email protected]

                                                        F:Bkkbreastcancersupport

 

Cervical cancer is the 4th most common type of cancer in women.  It is one of the most preventable cancers, and is effectively treated if detected early.

The majority of cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). This is a common infection, which can cause cervical changes that may result in cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is now routinely given to all children between the age of 9-12 to prevent cervical and other types of cancers.

Cervical screening in recent years has been updated. The traditional PAP smear has now been replaced with a new screening test, which detects for HPV.

This test is recommended for all women aged 25-74 and if normal only needs to be done every 5 years. Screening is still necessary for women who have had the HPV vaccine.

Women experiencing any of the below symptoms should speak to their GP:

Vaginal bleeding in between periods or after menopause

Menstrual bleeding that is heavier or longer than normal

Bleeding after intercourse

Unusual vaginal discharge

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer can affect women of all ages, but is most common in postmenopausal women over the age of 50 years. Symptoms can be vague and are often similar to other more common conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.  This and the absence of screening for ovarian cancer means that it is often diagnosed at a later stage when the cancer is more advanced, making it more difficult to treat.

You should speak to your GP if you are experiencing the below symptoms, particularly if they are persistent, frequent or severe:

Stomach or pelvic pain

Persistent bloating

Difficulty eating and a feeling full after a small meal

Altered bladder or bowel habits

Excessive fatigue

Lower back pain

Abnormal vaginal bleeding

Pain during sex

Always remember, regardless of the health issue, that after speaking to your healthcare provider you are not comfortable with their diagnosis, you should get a second opinion. Early detection saves lives.

References:

American Cancer Society 2020, breast cancer facts and figures 2019-2020,

Author Atlanta, viewed 12th August 2020

http://www.cancer.org/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures-2019-2020

American Cancer Society 2020, hpv vaccines,

Author Atlanta, viewed 11th August 2020

http://www.cancer.org/hpvvaccines

Breastcancer.org 2020, US breast Cancer Statistics,

Author Ardmore, viewed 10th August 2020,

http://www.breastcancer.org/breast-cancer-status

Cancer Council 2019, cervical cancer causes, symptoms & treatments,

Author Sydney, viewed August 11th 2020

www.cancer.org.au/cervicalcancer/causes,sympotm&treatments/cancercouncil

Macmillan.org 2020, ovarian cancer,

Author London, viewed 13th August

http://macmillan.org.uk/ovarian-cancer

Written by Jane Crowder. Registered oncology nurse Australia. Postgraduate certificate in Breast Cancer Nursing, Australian College of Nursing (ACN) 2018.

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