Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Ignorance is not bliss

Oct 29, 2022
This October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Source: Getty

In Australia, an average of 56 people a day are diagnosed with breast cancer with experts expecting 20,741 Australians to be diagnosed in 2022.

According to the Breast Cancer Network Australia, the “single biggest risk factor” of breast cancer is being a woman. Whilst men are also susceptible to the disease, of the 20,741 estimated diagnoses, 173 will be men.

Another leading risk factor involved with breast cancer is age, with three-quarters of women diagnosed with the most common cancer in women, being over the age of 50.

Other risk factors include:

  • Family history
  • Genetics
  • Being overweight
  • Alcohol intake
  • Smoking
  • Breast density
  • Personal breast history/benign conditions
  • Pregnancy and menstrual history
  • Chest of face radiation exposure
  • Taking oral contraception
  • Using Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, health advocates want to spread awareness and highlight the importance of educating women on how to perform self-checks and accessing top medical care for any abnormalities that may be discovered.

The majority of women struggle to put their own health first, and new research from the preventative health charity, Pink Hope, has found that as many as three in five (63 per cent) of Australian women are not performing self-checks and only 12 per cent of women over 60 are undertaking the self-assessment, despite 73 per cent knowing they should do the self-check once a month.

Pink Hope’s research found that while 56 per cent of women simply forget to carry out the self-assessment, 10 per cent don’t do it for fear of what they will find.

“Adult women of all ages should be performing breast self-checks at least once every 6 weeks as a preventative measure,” said Sarah Powell, CEO of Pink Hope.

“Being self-aware in your own body is essential to managing your health long-term, and while it may feel uncomfortable to start, getting comfortable performing a self-check each month could help you identify any unusual changes that can in turn result in better outcomes.”

Starts at 60 spoke with breast oncoplastic surgeon Dr Samitri Sood, who stressed the importance of being “breast aware” to fight and prevent breast cancer.

“This is breast awareness month and it’s really important to be breast aware because sometimes there’s a bit of a delay in our busy lives in getting a mammogram,” Dr Sood said.

“But if you just incorporate a breast self-check once in a while in your daily lives that can actually do a lot in the in fighting things earlier. Say you’re on holiday and you haven’t had the chance to have a mammogram, sometimes some women put it off for another year, a lot of people push it back for another year and that’s when we sort of run into trouble.

“So self-checks go a long way, and just being aware of your breasts is key.”

Dr Sood said self-checks are a non-invasive way to combat breast cancer. The surgeon said people should familiarise themselves with the look and feel of their breasts, performing the self-analysis once every three months.

“It’s something that can be done in your own space, in your own time,” she said.

“It doesn’t have to be a ritual that has to be done on a certain day of the month, in a certain position. It can be something that can be done when you’re having a shower or when you’re watching TV on the couch or before you go off to bed lying down.

“But it has to be systematic so you cover the whole breast and you also look at them to make sure that there are no changes that are visible, that you can’t really feel.

“It’s just about getting familiar with what’s what you know your body part looks and feels like.”

How to self check

For Breast Cancer Awareness month the McGrath Foundation had its Breast Care Nurses develop a process called Look, Feel, Learn to make self-checking easy to remember for Australians.

  1. Look – at the shape and appearance of your breasts and nipples in the mirror with your hands by your sides. Raise your arms above your head and have another look.
  2. Feel – all of your breasts and nipples, looking for anything that isn’t normal for you. Feel from your collarbone to below the bra-line and under your armpit too.
  3. Learn – what is normal for you! Breasts come in all different shapes and sizes, so get to know your normal. See your doctor if you notice any changes.

“At the McGrath Foundation we say, ‘if you grow them, know them’,” McGrath Foundation CEO Holly Masters said.

“The more you examine your breasts, the more you will learn about them and the easier it will become for you to tell if something has changed.”

Senior Financial Advisor at Compare Club, Lisa Varker, advised if you do end up with a breast cancer diagnosis you should check your insurance policy to help aid in the financial stress that may follow.

“The first thing I always advise my clients to do is to check their life insurance policy, if they have one, to see if they also have trauma or critical illness cover. It’s a specific type of life insurance that pays out a lump sum when you’re diagnosed with a serious illness such as breast cancer,” Varker said.

“Many people aren’t aware that they can claim on their trauma cover when they’re still working or at the time of diagnosis, thinking they have to wait until things get really serious before they can receive a payout. I’ve helped one client with breast cancer make a successful claim for over half a million dollars on her trauma cover and she cried tears of joy when she found out.

“For breast cancer, insurers will pay out in full for a malignant breast cancer. Most companies also pay a partial benefit for carcinoma in situ of the breast.

“When it comes to health insurance, things are a lot more simpler. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy for cancer are all covered under the Bronze tier of hospital cover. This is one of the lower cost tiers, so could be a good investment if you don’t already have health insurance and are worried about the cost. More expensive tiers of cover will also cover this cancer treatment.”

Rest assured if you do find any abnormalities, as Dr Sood informed the survival rate is over 90 per cent.

“The survival prognosis is excellent and the whole purpose is trying to find things early because the earlier you pick it up the better the prognosis,” Sood said.

“We know that early detection definitely saves lives and improves overall survival.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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