Sadly, a couple of months ago, a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She, like so many others, never in a million years thought breast cancer would get her, it’s the sort of thing that happens to other women - she’s fit, young and healthy.
Cancer does not discriminate - rich, poor, young, old, small breasts, large breasts…
To every woman out there, please regularly get yourself checked for breast and cervical cancer. Make that skin cancer too!
Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women, affecting one in nine New Zealand women over their lifetime.
TODAY 7 WOMEN will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
THIS YEAR 650 will most likely die.
YET 30% of eligible women don't have regular mammograms.
AND 60% of young women don't know the signs beyond a lump.
Source: NZ Breast Cancer Foundation
Signs & Symptoms
Most of us know to look for a lump but it’s not the only telltale sign. You may have cancer without having a lump! Signs and symptoms include:
- A lump or thickening of the skin in the breast or armpit area
- Change in nipple - discharge or inverted (pulled in)
- Breast pain
- A change in breast shape or size
- Skin change - of the breast, areola or nipple. This could be dimpling, puckering, reddening or any change in colour.
If you are presenting with any of these signs, or even if you are unsure, make an appointment to see your doctor. It’s important.
What to do
- Regularly check for signs of change to your breasts, as outlined above.
- Find out about your family history.
- From the age of forty, go for a regular mammogram, or earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer. The women who run the mammogram clinics are gorgeous and sensitive to your needs, especially that of privacy. Some women find a mammogram painful but I didn’t and I’m a sook!
Get checked. It’s free and could save your life!
There are free breast screening programmes both in New Zealand and Australia.
- Free breast screening programme for New Zealand women aged 45-69 years. You will be screened every two years. If you are not already registered, you can do so online or call Breast Screen Aotearoa on 0800 270 200.
Jane shares her story
Jane Sweeney, aged 49, went along for a routine mammogram. She had no outward signs or symptoms of breast cancer. A simple mammogram saved her.
Reducing the Risks
Being a woman, getting older and family history are all key factors in breast cancer. Whilst we can’t do anything to change these, we can maintain a healthy lifestyle to help reduce our chances of getting the disease:
- Reduce your alcohol intake: Research has shown a strong link between alcohol and the risk of developing breast cancer. To reduce your risk of breast cancer, try to limit your alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks a day.
- Maintain a healthy weight throughout your life. Women who put on a lot of weight in adulthood, particularly after menopause, may have a higher risk of breast cancer.
- Be active: Studies have shown that regular exercise reduces the risk of breast cancer. You don’t need to sweat it out at the gym to get the benefits. Moderate exercise, like a brisk walk, can be enough to reduce your cancer risk. And the more you do, the greater the benefits.
- Breastfeed if you can: Breast may be best for both you and the baby. The more months spent breastfeeding, the lower the risk of breast cancer.
- Eat well. A healthy diet, of at least five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit a day, may help to reduce your risk of cancer.
Facts & Fiction
There are many myths surrounding the possible causes, symptoms and outcomes of breast cancer. The NZ Breast Cancer Foundation addresses some of these.
Fiction: Bigger breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.
Fact: The size of your breasts has no effect on your chances of developing breast cancer. However, being overweight can increase your risk, especially in post-menopausal women.
Fiction: I’ve had a mammogram that didn’t show anything, so I won’t get breast cancer.
Fact: Cancer can occur at any time. This is why you should be breast aware and have a mammogram every year from 40 – 49 years then every two years from 50-73 years.
Fiction: Breast cancer is a death sentence.
Fact: Breast cancer is largely treatable and survivable if detected early enough. Almost 85% of NZ women diagnosed with breast cancer live 5 years or longer.
Fiction: Breast cancer lumps are painful and grow fast.
Fact: Breast Cancer lumps tend to be painless hard to the touch, fixed in position and persist even after a few periods. They usually grow slowly, particularly in women over 50. It has generally developed over many years before it gets to a stage where you can feel it.
Fiction: All breast lumps are cancerous.
Fact: Nine out of ten breast lumps are not cancerous.
Fiction: Deodorants/anti-perspirants, wearing underwire bras and silicone breast implants cause breast cancer.
Fact: There is no evidence to support these claims.
Fiction: Men don’t get breast cancer.
Fact: About twenty men are currently diagnosed with breast cancer each year in New Zealand.
NZ Breast Cancer Foundation
National Breast Cancer Foundation, Australia
Other resources you may be interested in
NZ Breast Cancer Foundation e-Guide
Breast Screen Australia
NHS Inform UK
We can all do our bit to help
Next month the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation is running its highly successful fundraising event - Pink Ribbon Breakfast.
We’re always looking for an excuse to catch up with friends and family - why not host a Pink Ribbon Breakfast and raise funds for vital breast cancer research at the same time. It needn’t be a breakfast, it could be morning or afternoon tea with a muffin, lunch or a dinner.
If you own or run a café or restaurant, you could host a Pink Ribbon Breakfast to show your community how much you care.
In 2013, New Zealander’s hosted 1,800 breakfasts. Let’s smash that record if we can.
Pink Ribbon Breakfast hosted by Bronwyn Bateman in 2012
There’s loads of information on the Pink Ribbon Breakfast website, including how to get started, registration, ideas, recipes and information of where the money you raise will go.
Lorraine Downes, NZBCF ambassador and former Miss Universe, is the face of this year’s Pink Ribbon Breakfast campaign. Lorraine’s mother, Glad, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and underwent successful treatment for the disease.
“Research is vital for better treatments to improve survival of this very complex cancer, and ultimately for prevention,” Lorraine says. “The Foundation is funding several world-class projects right here in New Zealand – Pink Ribbon Breakfast is a great way to raise money for the cause.”
For further information and registration details
Equally important is having a regular smear test (Pap smear) to check for cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers.
It is recommended that women have a cervical smear test every two years (Australia) and three years (New Zealand) from the age of 20 -70. Immunisation is now available to help protect young women against the two common types of high-risk HPV (types 16 and 18) that cause up to 70% of cervical cancer, the HPV vaccine is available in Australia and New Zealand so talk to the younger women (and in Australia, also men) in your life about this funded vaccine.
Having regular cervical smears can reduce a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer by 90 percent.
Doctors, health centres or family planning clinics can do smear tests.
Signs & Symptoms
Often cervical cancer will not present with any signs or symptoms so it’s important to have a regular smear test. Also, see your doctor if you have:
- bleeding between menstrual periods
- bleeding after sexual intercourse
- bleeding after menstrual periods have stopped (menopause)
- unusual discharge from your vagina
- persistent pain in your pelvis
- pain during sexual intercourse.
These symptoms can occur for many reasons, but they should always be checked out.
A cervical smear test is only detecting cervical changes. While less common, it is important to be aware and act on any of the below symptoms for ovarian cancer using the BEAT Ovarian Cancer slogan:
Frequently Asked Questions
If you want to know more, check out these responses to frequently asked questions.
National Screening Unit (New Zealand)
National Cervical Screening Program (Australia)
The New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation
Off you go :)