October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and this year, Breast Cancer Care is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the pink ribbon, a powerful symbol for millions of people affected by the disease.
What is breast cancer?
Breast cancer starts in the cells of the breast as a group of cancer cells that can then invade surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body.
Breast cancer signs and symptoms
Knowing the signs and symptoms of breast cancer can lead to diagnosing cancer sooner. This can be crucial in providing more effective treatment and, ultimately, saving lives. But a Breast Cancer Care survey found a third (33%) of women aren’t regularly checking. A fifth (20%) say it’s because they don’t know how to check their breasts.
How should a breast self-exam be performed?
In the Shower:
Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the centre, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot.
In Front of a Mirror:
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead. Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match – few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.Use light, medium, and firm pressure.
Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
Breast cancer doesn’t always mean a lump. Other less well-known symptoms include a nipple becoming inverted or a change in the texture of the skin.
Breast cancer and younger women
Around 5,600 women aged 45 and under are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in the UK. A Breast Cancer Care survey found just over half (53%) of younger women diagnosed with breast cancer have no discussion with healthcare professionals about fertility preservation options, which include freezing embryos or eggs.
Good news about Breast Cancer
In recent years, perhaps coinciding with the decline in prescriptive hormone replacement therapy after menopause, we have seen a gradual reduction in female breast cancer incidence rates among women aged 50 and older. Death rates from breast cancer have been declining since about 1990, in part due to better screening and early detection, increased awareness, and continually improving treatment options.
If you are concerned about any abnormalities with your breasts contact your local doctors and make an appointment.
Free Helpline 0808 800 6000 www.breastcancercare.org.uk