Early detection of breast cancer (or any cancer) can and does save lives.
This life-saving information is promoted every October, yet how many women and men remember the message during the rest of the year, because every month women need to get to know their body and become “breast aware.”
Most breast cancers are detected through routine or regular breast self-examinations or by accident. The bottom line is the earlier cancer is detected, the better chance of successful recovery using less invasive treatments with a lower risk of recurrence or death.
Not every breast change or “lump” is breast cancer, in fact most are not, however it is important to report anything different to your physician in case it is. Every woman is at risk to develop breast cancer – just being a woman and getting older raises the risk factor.
There is an increase of breast cancers in the 50-79 age groups and more are being found in younger women between the ages of 20 and 49 and in men. Unfortunately breast cancers in younger women and men tend to be more aggressive and may need prompt and more aggressive treatment.
Many of these are linked to BRC1 or BRC2 genes. The good news is the earlier treated the better the prognosis. Of those treated early, 90 per cent live full and rewarding lives.
Everyone should be aware of his or her family medical history. If there is cancer in the family, share the information with your physician and family members, write it down and put it with important papers.
Don’t take unnecessary chances with your life, learn to become aware and familiar with the “look” and “feel” of your breasts, know their contours and skin textures. Clinics are held monthly by the Comox Valley Breast Health Group-BSE Clinics.
Women are taught methods of self-examination in private with guidance from professional, trained instructors providing a baseline so when doing regular breast self-exams, changes will be easier to detect. It’s free and no referral is necessary.
Make an appointment for private instruction in breast self-examination by calling C.V. Nursing Centre at 250-331-8504 (ext. 38115) or sign up at St. Joseph’s mammography department.
Mammography is another tool used for early detection. The X-Ray can see into breast tissue and find deeper, smaller changes undetectable by fingers or eyes. St. Joseph’s Hospital has an updated digital mammography machine and women can make appointments by calling 250-890-3020 there is no referral necessary and no charge.
A doctor will recommend an ultrasound if necessary. Ultrasound and breast thermography are breast scans that are pain-free and radiation-free. For more information on thermograph clinics, call 250-947-5424.
Remember to ask your physician for a breast examination during your yearly visit. Breast cancers don’t wait for appointments before they develop.
Waiting a year or two before checking your breasts could mean missing an early, treatable cancer. Any changes detected between annual visits should be brought to your doctor’s attention immediately it’s probably not cancer but does need assessment. While waiting for results share your concerns with a friend. Talking about it eases tension.
Inflammatory breast cancer is rare but aggressive. The breast may not include a “lump” and could appear red, purple or bruised and swollen. It may feel warm, heavy, burning and ache or be tender; skin might have ridges or appear pitted. Symptoms usually develop quickly, over a period of weeks or months.
It is important to note that these symptoms may also be signs of infection, injury, or other types of cancers. They should be seen by a doctor to determine the cause of discomfort.
There are both false negative and false positive diagnoses in BSE, Mammography and clinical exams. No method of detection is 100 per cent accurate and women can’t rely on just breast self-examinations, just mammography or just a clinical exam.
The costs of investigative biopsies should not deter a woman from practising early detection. Biopsies and other procedures maybe necessary for early detection of cancer, there is never a good reason for a wait and see approach when it comes to your health.
Environmental studies show the use of hormones and harmful compounds in some of our foods and pharmaceuticals can cause breast cancer. Being conscience of our environment, knowing what we ingest or put on our body is also being “ breast aware”. Prevention is the new focus for cancer researchers. Maintain a healthy weight (extra fat cells produce more estrogenic hormones). Exercising 5 hours a week reduces your risks, choose an exercise that you enjoy and will follow through with. Reduce red meat and alcohol in-take and eat whole grains, vegetables and fruit to keep your body healthy. Eat organic when possible. With less sun in BC, why risk getting skin cancer in a tanning booth, choose to take vitamin D3 daily, it’s proven to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
It takes 20 minutes to learn simple breast self-examination methods and it takes less than 20 minutes to have a mammogram, a total of 40 minutes of self-caring that could save your life because of early detection. Believe it, believe in your self, then do it- for your self.
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Come to the Breast Health Awareness Forum on Oct. 26 at the Best Western Plus Westerly Hotel and Convention Centre at 6:30 p.m. for more information.