Health issues

Why it’s important to your loved ones to maintain good breast health

Women juggle so many caring roles that finding time to take care of themselves can be hard, but there are some health checks that are important to make a priority even if you feel in good health.

I don’t have the time to devote to myself. I’ve got more important things to do. I’m more worried about my loved ones’ health than my own.

These are thoughts many women have at some time or another, especially when they’re caring for kids or grandkids, keeping a home, working, nursing a sick partner, looking after elderly parents or doing one of the many other caring tasks that come up throughout life. 

With such busy schedules it’s easy for woman to put off potentially life-saving health checks for ‘another day’, particularly if they feel in good health.

But some health checks are important to make a priority and are part of maintaining good health – breast screening is one of them. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second highest cause of cancer-related death amongst women. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 85.

The biggest known risk factors for developing breast cancer are simply being a woman and getting older. More than three-quarters of the women diagnosed with breast cancer are aged 50 and over.

For women aged between 50 and 74 years, breast screening every two years is the most effective way to detect breast cancer early. The x-ray of the breast tissue can pick up changes that are too small to be felt by you or your doctor and with the help of early detection, the five-year breast cancer survival rate has increased to 90 per cent.

Breast cancer can develop in between your two yearly breast screens so it is important to be aware of the normal look and feel of your breasts. If you do find a breast lump, nipple discharge or any breast changes that are of concern, you should contact your doctor without delay.

57-year-old Queenslander Joanna Capewell knows well the importance of taking time for your personal health.

For Joanna, who juggles roles including being a mother, sister, wife, daughter, work colleague and volunteer, says she understands how easy it is for many women to put themselves last when it comes to health care.

“It’s a historical, traditional role that women play as carers, generally, so I think they tend to put themselves at the bottom of the list when they’re looking after their own health,” she says.

“It’s something you need to fit into your schedule. Perhaps that is the one thing you do on that day as your bit of ‘me time’. It’s quick, it’s easy, the people are really professional, they make you feel very comfortable. It’s not embarrassing and not painful.”

Unlike other health tests that require GP appointments or specialist referrals, booking and attending a breast screen is free and very simple, you don’t need a doctor’s referral and you can book over the phone or online.

“The great thing is you receive a letter, it tells you you’re due, it gives you the details of who you can call and where you can book in, so you don’t have to go to the same clinic all the time if that’s not convenient for you,” Joanna explains.

BreastScreen Queensland’s Dr Deborah Pfeiffer adds that the whole time taken for a breast screen appointment is just 30 minutes!

The free test includes an x-ray that can pick up on small changes in the breast tissue. While the test itself doesn’t prevent cancer, finding breast cancer early reduces the chances of dying from the disease and provides greater treatment and management options.

There are more than 260 BreastScreen Queensland locations across Queensland that offer screening and you can choose to have your correspondence sent to you via mail or to your online account. If the test picks up any abnormalities, a doctor will contact you by phone.

Dr Pfeiffer says that about seven per cent of women are asked to come back to the breast-screening service for further testing. These additional tests can take anywhere between two and four hours, and around one in 10 women who do these tests will need further specialist treatment because extra investigations are needed or because a breast cancer is found.

BreastScreen Queensland is working hard right now to make it even easier for busy women to get screened, and to make sure it’s available in rural and remote parts of the state.

“The BreastScreen Queensland program aims to address that by providing early morning, late afternoon and Saturday appointments at some of our services,” Dr Pfeiffer says.

“Almost every rural and remote community in Queensland does get a mobile service every two years and that mobile service will try and have early, late and Saturday services when they can.”

Neglecting your breast health could have a big impact on you and your entire family if cancer is diagnosed too late because, as a cancer increases in size, grade or speed, so does the risk of invasive treatments. These can be far more life-changing than a simple breast screen.

Joanna urges other women to put aside worries they may have about a breast screen.  

 “Speak to somebody who knows what it’s all about. The treatment is much harder and much more difficult to deal with if the cancer has taken hold, so get in early.”

Are you due for a breast screen? How have you made time for a personal appointment?

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.

BreastScreen Queensland

A breast screen only takes 30 minutes and is a must every two years for women aged between 50 and 74.

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