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Keeping abreast of the breast cancer issues

Wednesday 19 October, 2011 by Melissa

October is an important month for us here at Cancer Council - and not just because the mighty Geelong Cats won the AFL grand final on October 1 this year (forgive the gratuitous plug but I'm a very happy fan). It's because October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

We here in the Cancer Prevention Centre are working to raise awareness of the disease which affects thousands of women and dozens of men in Victoria each year.

And there are some important things we think readers need to be aware of - these include:
• Current figures show 1 in 11 Victorian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 75.
• In 2009, breast cancer was the third most common cancer accounting for 12 per cent of cancers in Victorian men and women.
• A total of 3,964 women and 30 men were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 - 698 women and 2 men died from the disease.

These statistics may paint a very grim picture of the breast cancer landscape but it's worth noting the number of deaths has actually been steadily dropping over the past 10 years. In fact, Cancer Council Victoria research shows the number of deaths from breast cancer has (on average) dropped by 2.5 per cent each year since 1999.

While the drop in deaths is great news, the figures still show why it's so important that men and women be breast aware - that is they look for unusual changes to their boobies, hooters, ta tas or bosoms.

That means knowing how your breasts look and feel and what changes normally occur during the hormonal fluctuations of that time of the month (for women). If there are any changes which aren't normal, men and women should seek medical advice.

Symptoms of breast cancer can include:
• A lump, lumpiness or thickening in the breast or armpit
• Changes in the skin on the breast such as dimpling, puckering or redness
• Changes in the nipple like it pointing inwards rather than out (unless it has always been this way) as well as a change in nipple direction or an unusual discharge.

Women, particularly those aged 50-69, are encouraged to have a mammogram every two years as a high proportion of women diagnosed with breast cancer within this age group. For those of you that don't know - a mammogram is an x-ray of a woman's breast tissue that looks for the early signs of cancer. Free mammograms are available through BreastScreen Victoria for women aged 50-69. Women aged 40 and older or 70 and older also have free access to the BreastScreen Victoria program should they choose to have mammographic screening. Mammograms are available by phoning BreastScreen Victoria on 13 20 50.

Men are encouraged to talk to their doctor or health professional about any concerns they may have about their breast health.

Cancer Council Victoria also encourages men and women to lower their risk of cancers, including breast cancer, by following the Cut Your Cancer Risk messages. Especially since alarming new figures released by Cancer Council earlier this year show alcohol consumption is a major risk factor for breast cancer, accounting for more than one in five cases nationwide. Overweight and obesity (having a waistline of over 85cm) have also been associated with a greater risk of post-menopausal breast cancer. Having a healthy diet, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, being SunSmart, have regular screening or check-ups, limiting alcohol and quitting smoking all lower the risk of cancer.

As always, for more information or for support for those with breast cancer, visit www.cancervic.org.au or call the Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20.

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