Aine D

Working together to fight breast cancer

PINK cricket bat handles, pink ribbons, and, in a wonderfully creative gesture, pink globes to illuminate the top of the Sikh temple beside the highway in Woolgoolga.

When everything is coming up pink you know the cause is breast cancer, and October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

It's a time tinged with sadness for many families but one that also brings encouragement, thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatment that are producing much-improved survival rates.

Although breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women aged 35 and older, most women will not develop it - the rate is one in nine by the age of 85 years (breast cancer can also affect males).

Early detection greatly increases the chances of effective treatment, which now stands at more than 80 per cent. For breast cancers detected early, the survival rate in NSW is 97 per cent.

A free two-yearly mammogram through a BreastScreen clinic is strongly recommended for women in the highest risk age group of 50 to 69 years. Any lump that can be detected through self examination is often about four times bigger, thereby reducing survival rates and treatment options.

When self-examining, look for any changes in your breasts that are not normal for you.

The symptoms may include a lump, painless or painful, inverted nipple, a bloody discharge from the nipple or changes in the skin overlying the breast, making it resemble the skin of an orange, or a change in colour.

Although most breast changes are not due to cancer, women who do notice any changes to their breasts should see their doctor without delay.

The risk of developing breast cancer is increased with age, an early onset of menstruation (before the age of 12), late menopause (after the age of 55), a family history of breast cancer, and a first pregnancy after the age of 30.

Breast cancer begins with changes in some of the cells in the breast. As the cancer grows, some of the cells may spread from the breast to other parts of the body. Research shows that 38 per cent of breast cancer in Australian women has spread from the breast to the lymph nodes by the time it is diagnosed, with this progression being found much more often in women aged 20 to 39 years.

So a greater effort is needed to encourage younger women to act quickly and seek help if they find a change in their breast that could be breast cancer.

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