Breast Cancer Awareness

C A N C E R   I N F O R M A T I O N

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. It is the major cause of death from cancer for women aged between 30 and 60 years.

Men can also suffer from breast cancer but compared with women it is a rare occurrence with an incidence rate of about 1% compared with the rate in women.

The cause of breast cancer is unknown.

Women who delay having children until their 30ís or who donít have children at all are more likely to get breast cancer. If you have a mother, sister or relative who has had breast cancer this increases the risk for you as does a personal history of non-malignant cystic breast disease. Women whose periods started before the age of 12 or finished after the age of 50 also incur a greater risk of breast cancer. The link between the contraceptive pill and/or Hormone Replacement Therapy after menopause and breast cancer has not been satisfactorily confirmed or disproved at this stage of scientific research. Finally, if you have suffered from cancer of the womb there appears to be an increased risk of cancer of the breast.

The earliest sign of breast cancer is a single painless firm to hard lump. The edges of the lump are not sharp and stretch out gradually into the surrounding tissue if felt between the fingers. Erosion of the nipple or discharge may indicate an early cancer. Late signs of cancer include an inability to move the lump which appears attached to the skin or to the deeper breast tissue. There may be puckering of the skin above the cancer or retraction of the nipple. Eventually there will be breast enlargement, hardness, inflammation and pain. Almost half of breast cancers begin in the nipple or outer and upper quarter of the breast. The earlier a cancer of the breast is discovered, the better the chances of a complete recovery.

The simplest test for breast cancer is one which women should carry out each month. Breast Self Examination takes only a few minutes and should be done at the same time each month, preferably just after your period has finished. Your doctor, womenís health centre, family planning centre or the Cancer Council in your state will be able to give you information on the correct way to examine your breasts.

If you notice any changes in your breasts, contact your doctor immediately. The good news is that almost all lumps are quite harmless, but it is best to make sure.

Mammography used as a screening procedure in apparently cancer free women is the only way to effectively detect breast cancer. All apparently healthy women in the 30 to 40 age group should have a mammogram. The good news is that almost all lumps are quite harmless, but it is best to make sure.

You should keep your mammography films which help to identify any marked changes in later mammograms. In the 40 to 50 age group you should have a yearly mammogram and over 50 it should be done every 18 to 24 months. Your doctor can arrange this either through a private radiologist or through a screening clinic.

An early diagnosis of breast cancer can be confirmed by the removal for pathology examination of a small piece of the suspected tumour with a fine needle biopsy in the doctorís surgery or in hospital as a frozen section before operation should it be found to be necessary.

The treatment of breast cancer has changed over recent years.

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