Every 3 hours a woman in Ireland is diagnosed with breast cancer. In this week’s Health Blog I give some facts and figures about breast cancer which is the second most common cancer in women after skin cancer. More than 2000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in Ireland each year. Irish women have a 1 in 12 chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. Only about five to ten per cent of breast cancers are believed to have a family link. The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. Approximately 80%of breast cancers occur in women over 50 years. Around 14 men develop breast cancer in Ireland each year.Breast Cancer is the second most common cancer in Ireland. Early diagnosis is a key to surviving breast cancer. If you do notice any change in your breasts, see your GP as soon as possible. 9 out of 10 suspicious lumps are not cancerous. Many women over 40 have calcium deposits (calcifications) in their breasts, and most of them are benign. Pain isn’t usually a sign of breast cancer.If you have pain in one or both breasts, rest assured it’s probably due to hormonal changes, a benign cyst, a ligament strain or another condition; however it is important to get unexplained pain checked by your GP. Don’t worry that you may be making an unnecessary fuss. More common warning signs of breast cancer include a palpable lump, a change in the size or shape of the breast, puckering of the skin, nipple changes (like scaling or discharge), or increased warmth. A mammogram (X-ray of the breast) is the most common way to check for breast cancer. 80.6% of all women diagnosed with breast cancer survive for 5 years or longer; early detection is the key to survival.
Self-checks are vitally important; 74% of Irish women with breast cancer discovered the lump themselves. It’s good to do them at the same time every month. What self-exams do is help you become familiar with what’s “normal” for your breasts. So when something’s off, you’ll know and can bring it to your doctor’s attention. After all, you know your body better than any doctor does.
Your GP will refer you to a specialist breast clinic in a hospital if he/she has any concern about your symptoms; for example if you have a lump in your breast. At the hospital, you may have triple assessment. Triple assessment uses three ways used to assess your breasts. It starts with the doctor taking a medical history or list of any health problems you have had in the past and then examining your breasts and underarms. Next you may be sent on to the X-ray department for the next step which may be a mammogram (x-ray of the breast) or an Ultrasound scan or both. Finally a biopsy which may be a fine needle test or core biopsy. If you do not have a lump you may not need full triple assessment.
Importance of self-checks
What happens if my GP sends me for a breast check?
BreastCheck Screening ProgrammeBreastCheck is a programme funded by the Government which provides breast screening and allows women aged 50 to 64 to get a free mammogram on an area-by-area manner every two years. BreastCheck reduces deaths from breast cancer by finding and treating the disease at an early stage. Screening has been proven to reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer, as the disease is very treatable if detected early. BreastCheck invites women aged 50 to 64 for a free mammogram on an area by area basis every two years. In order to be able to invite women in the 50 to 64 age group, BreastCheck has a register of women eligible for screening but there are times when your details could be missed. If you haven’t got an invitation you can register for BreastCheck by calling freephone 1800 45 45 55. The Breast Check website (www.breastcheck.ie) has details of screening locations in your area. Breast Check screenings are life-saving so don’t delay getting yours
Some quick tips on Breast Cancer PreventionActive women are less likely to develop and die from breast cancer. A Recent American study suggests that women with high aerobic fitness levels have a 55% lower chance of dying from breast cancer than their less-fit peers. So get moving! Having two or more drinks a day increases breast cancer risk by about 25%. Embrace a diet high in vegetables and fruit and low in sugared drinks, refined carbohydrates and fatty foods. Stop smoking, smoking is associated with increased risk of breast cancer in some women. Growing evidence suggests that getting enough of the B vitamin folate (in leafy green vegetables, beans and fortified cereals) may help mitigate the increased cancer risk associated with drinking alcohol. Being overweight, especially after menopause increases your breast cancer risk. So if you’re overweight, you have higher amounts of circulating oestrogen, which could stimulate breast cancer growth. Even losing a few pounds can reduce your risk significantly. Breast-feed your babies for as long as possible. Women who breast-feed their babies for at least a year in total have a reduced risk of developing breast cancer later. For more information, call the National Cancer Helpline at 1800 200 700 (Monday to Friday)
Whelehans Pharmacy, 38 Pearse St, Mullingar (opposite the Greville Arms Hotel). Tel 04493 34591. Web. www.whelehans.ie