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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so warm up your hands!

Why does Beast Cancer get a whole month? Surely that’s a large lump of awareness?

According to the National Cancer Institute and based on 2012-2014 data, the lifetime risk of developing cancer in women is approximately 12.4 percent of the total population. It’s estimated that breast cancer will make up 15% of all new cancer cases in 2017 and 6.8% of cancer deaths.

If you find a lump and your GP recommends you to go the breast screening clinic, here are some fairly accurate and easy to remember ratios: roughly 1/10 examinations at the clinic will result in a breast cancer diagnosis. Roughly 1/10 of those diagnoses will result in a death attributed to breast cancer. So your odds of surviving for 5 years+ are around 99/100 when you first turn up for your appointment.

Bearing this in mind, it’s easy to see why it’s so important to self examine. The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the easier the treatment and better the outcome. Here is a link to a good description of self checking.

What would you expect to find? Every so often I take my thingymaboob round my exercise classes to show people the importance of attending screenings. Take a look at the picture of the keyring . The largest bead is the average size of breast lump found by women when completing regular self checks. The smallest bead is the size found by regular mammograms. (The largest bead is about the size of your thumbnail.)

There are a few lifestyle related things you can do to reduce your risk of breast cancer and they’re mostly as you would expect. Studies show that breastfeeding, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing alcohol intake, exercising regularly and not smoking are all factors linked to lower levels of breast cancer. Many diagnoses are however linked to unpreventable factors such as genetics or age so please think less self blame and more self checking.

Treatment for breast cancer can include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy and biological therapy. Most people will receive a combination of these treatments for example chemotherapy to reduce the size of a lump prior to surgery.

A few years ago I found a (thankfully benign) lump during my regular self check. My GP made an appointment for me at the same day clinic in Perth. It wasn’t fun but as you would expect the staff were lovely and checks were done as sympathetically as possible. Here’s what happened:

I was given a manual check by a consultant. He looked at the lump and sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound. The results were not clear and a possibly cancerous lump was identified so the consultant reviewed the notes and sent me for a biopsy. This all happened within a few hours of arriving. A biopsy is where a needle is used to remove part of the area for further analysis. I was told the results within a week. If there is no dangerous lump found at any point in this process you may be told that you’re free to return home without completing all the stages of the screening.

Breast Cancer Awareness gets a whole month because it affects so many people. If you suspect a change during your monthly checks, please don’t wait. The outcomes for early diagnosis and treatment are good and the infrastructure is in place to have you diagnosed and treated quickly.

Enjoy Boob Health!

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