Dr. Frankie on why breast aware is best
It's easy and effective to be more breast cancer aware, and a lookout-for-lumps checklist is a must…
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month (BCAM) but, according to the charity CoppaFeel!, only 30 per cent of 18-29-year-old women are checking their breasts once a month. And a monthly check-up is what's recommended. This is the most common cancer in women under 40 and affects one in eight. However, 23 per cent of cases are preventable so, as always, early detection is the goal.
I've been thinking about high-profile women who are inspiring, especially in BCAM, such as Angelina Jolie. In 2013, Angelina sparked controversy in the media by having a preventative double mastectomy as she was deemed high risk for developing breast cancer. Her response to negativity in the media was both elegant and inspiring. She said: “I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.” I love this quote. She reinforces to all vulnerable women out there that health on the inside takes priority over our external appearance.
Anastacia, Kylie Minogue and Cynthia Nixon have also been public about their breast cancer, which I think is important. I’ve spent time working in cancer clinics and, from my experience, when people get a diagnosis of cancer, they can feel as if their body has let them down and it’s a kind of weakness. So when people in the public eye talk about their own diagnoses, it normalises it and shows you’re not any less of a woman by having breast cancer.
So if you notice a change in your breasts, however small it may be, please do consult your GP. Don’t wait or put it off! Even if it’s difficult to get an appointment at your surgery, you can still send in a picture, or request a telephone or video consultation. You will be called in for an in-person examination if your doctor thinks you need one.
Dr Frankie busts six myths about breast cancer:
1Breast cancer only affects women
Actually one per cent of breast cancers are in men.
2You can only get breast cancer in the breast itself
It's important to also check up into the armpit and the collarbone as breast tissue is there too.
3Spray deodorant causes breast cancer
There is no scientific evidence to prove this.
4Breast cancers always present as a lump
Some breast cancers can present as skin changes. For example, skin puckering (which makes the overlying skin look like orange peel) occurs when the cancer pulls on the ligaments and muscle of the breast. Also look for nipple changes such as inversion, bleeding or discharge and rashes or crusting.
5If I find a lump it's definitely breast cancer
Most breast lumps, especially in younger women, are benign (non-cancerous). For common causes of breast lumps see the checklist below.
6I shouldn’t check my breasts because I might not do it properly
There is no right or wrong way to examine yourself. Find a method that works for you that checks all of the tissue and behind the nipple. Some tips include: Checking monthly, looking in the mirror and do it with your hand by your side and then your hand raised behind your head. Try looking and feeling, and just get to know your own body, rather than worrying about doing it with perfect technique. What's important is that you do it.
Breast cancers are usually firm lumps (like a marble) and don't move when you roll your hand over them. Other types of lump include:
These are fluid-filled lumps, which can occur at any age and usually when approaching menstruation. They're most common in women approaching menopause. They usually resolve on their own but sometimes they will be investigated to ensure they're benign. Then a sample of fluid in the cyst will be taken by inserting a thin needle.
This is the term for a lump which results following any injury or trauma to breast tissue which can damage the fat tissue. It usually heals and goes away on its own.
For women under 40 this is a common cause of breast lumps, and often occurs in women in their 20s. Usually, these lumps aren't painful and feel round and firm. They usually move slightly under the skin when they are pressed. Sometimes medical advice is to have them removed, and they can disappear naturally. They tend to go post-menopause.
This is a fatty growth which develops within the fatty tissue of your breast. It is non-cancerous and does not require treatment. However, it can be removed if it is large or causing any symptoms.
Menstrual changes and fibrocystic change
This lumpy change is most common in 30 to 50-year-old women. It occurs naturally with the menstrual cycle due to hormonal changes. When the tenderness and lumpiness cause problems, including pain, the condition is known as fibrocystic change.
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