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How to: Be breast aware

October 2011

You can't fail to notice the abundance of pink everywhere at this time of year. It's October and pink symbolises breast cancer awareness.

Latest Cancer Council Victoria stats show that fewer people are dying from breast cancer: over the last decade the mortality rate has dropped by 2.5% each year on average. But it's still one of the most common cancers, with 1 in 11 women diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 75.

This downward trend in deaths from breast cancer is a result of improved treatment outcomes and people getting treated sooner, so early detection and breast cancer screening are incredibly important.

Women need to be breast aware. Love your breasts! Get to know the look and feel of your breasts, and if things suddenly seem abnormal then seek medical advice.

What to look out for

  • A lump, lumpiness or thickening of your breast or armpit.
  • A change in your nipple, like it pointing in a different direction to usual, or unusual discharge.
  • Changes in the texture of your skin around your breast, such as dimpling, puckering or redness.
  • Pain in your breast that's ongoing.
  • Any noticeable changes in the shape or size of one breast.

How to check your breasts

First of all, there is no right or wrong way to check your breasts – it's about finding a way that works for you. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Use a mirror to get to know the usual look and shape of your breasts.
  • Become familiar with the feel of your breasts at different times of the month. You might find this easiest in the shower or bath, lying in bed, or getting dressed.
  • Feel all the breast tissue, from the collarbone to below the bra line, and under the armpit.
  • Use the pads of your fingers to feel near the surface and deeper in the breast.
  • For more information on being breast aware, contact the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20, or download the brochure Breast awareness for all women .

What do you do if you do find a lump, or the look and feel of your breasts does change?

The short answer is, see a doctor as soon as possible. Don't wait or put it off until next week or month.  It could well be nothing to worry about (nine out of 10 breast changes aren't breast cancer and keep in mind that breasts can change throughout your lifetime.) Don't put yourself through waiting, worrying and not knowing. More than that, early detection is very important; it gives you more treatment options and a greater chance of survival.

Did you know that half of the women diagnosed with breast cancer are in their 50s and 60s? If you are a woman in the 50 to 69 year old age group it's recommended you get a free mammogram, every two years, from BreastScreen Victoria (tel: 13 20 50). Women in their 40s and 70s are also eligible for free screening if they want to arrange to have a mammogram.

Family history is a factor when it comes to breast cancer but people often overestimate how significant it actually is. Only five per cent of breast cancer patients have a known breast cancer gene – but your risk is increased if you've had breast cancer before or if a close relative (mother, sister or daughter) has had breast cancer or ovarian cancer.

Your lifestyle can also have a significant effect on your risk of breast cancer

Earlier this year, Cancer Council released new figures which show alcohol is responsible for as many as one in five breast cancers – so limiting the number of drinks you have can have a seriously positive impact on your health!

Other factors that are known to affect your risk of breast cancer are:

Help us turn October pink and make sure, if nothing else, that you become breast aware. For further tips and an amusing take on being breast aware from Canadian organisation, Rethink Breast Cancer, watch their video of handsome semi-naked men talking about breast checks. It's enough to make anyone blush pink for breast awareness.

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