Caring for your breasts

About one in eight women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. 30 years ago at the age of 48, I was found to have breast cancer, so I know personally that caring for your breasts is paramount. If you notice anything abnormal in your breasts take action and get checked out. It will reduce the time you waste worrying and there’s a good chance of recovery if problems are detected at an early stage. Get to know all parts of your breasts, check your armpits and up to your collarbone for changes such as:
• A lump or thickening;
• Change in size or shape of breast;
• Discharge from your nipples or change in position;
• Skin changes, puckering or dimpling
• Redness or rash around the nipple.
• Pain in your breast or armpit
• Swelling in your armpit or around collarbone

Most breast lumps are caused by benign (non-cancerous) conditions, but of course we must be mindful that it could be a sign of breast cancer. The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, the more effective the treatment can be. Too many women, and men, die of breast cancer due to late detection. Diagnosed at an early stage, before it increases in size or has the chance to spread is most important, because when cancer has spread it becomes more difficult to treat and the chances of survival are lower. Over 90% of patients diagnosed at the early stage survive for at least 5 years, compared with only 15% diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. I was fortunate, mine was found early and after diagnosis I finally agreed to a double mastectomy followed by reconstruction of my breasts. But I’m still here, fighting fit after 30 years!

The likelihood of getting breast cancer increases with age, but all women registered with a GP who are aged 50-70, or have a family history of breast cancer, are automatically invited for breast cancer screening every three years. The NHS is in the process of extending the programme as a trial, offering screening to some women aged 47-73. In the meantime, if you are worried about breast cancer symptoms don’t wait to be offered screening – talk to your GP who can refer you. Breast screening is beneficial in identifying early breast cancer, a mammogram can spot cancers when they are too small to see or feel. The earlier the condition is found the less likely the need for mastectomy (breast removal) or chemotherapy, and the better the chances of surviving.
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