Despite the prevalence of breast cancer in Australia, new research shows only one in four women check their breasts regularly. The research by HCF, in partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF), also found nearly half of all women do not know what to check for, and 44 per cent have never been to their doctor for a breast check.
The findings have led to the Hands On campaign, running throughout October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is an education initiative designed to teach Australians what the possible signs of breast cancer feel like to encourage women to check their own breasts.
Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women in Australia, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer. However, survival rates are constantly improving. Eighty-nine out of 100 women are now living five years beyond diagnosis of invasive breast cancer.
The best chance of surviving breast cancer is early detection and to help women know what to check for, HCF branches will host Hands On learning stations, where people get to feel some of the possible signs of breast cancer on a sets of replica breasts. The learning stations aim to encourage regular breast self-examinations and doctor screenings.
National Breast Cancer Foundation CEO Sarah Hosking said it was a great initiative that “may raise some eyebrows, but will ultimately get people thinking and feeling for breast cancer.”
“We know that one in eight Australian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and eight women will die each day, which makes being breast aware so vital,” Dr Hosking said.
“We save lives through early detection. Research into early detection has resulted in a national breast screening program, which has helped Australians receive the right treatment at the right time, significantly improving survival rates.”
When conducting a breast self-exam, women should look out for: a lump or lumpiness; changes in size and shape; changes to the nipple (redness, inversion, crusting or discharge; and/or change in skin (redness or dimpling). Women should also consult their GP if an unusual pain in the breast persists.
“It’s good if we can get girls into the habit of understanding how important it is to just get checks,” Cancer Council volunteer Danielle Merlino told The Newsroom.
“I think [we need] something in schools teaching girls how to do it. I was discussing this at work the other day; breasts are lumpy anyway and it’s confusing what you’ve got to look out for. I think the earlier you do it, the better.”
Mammography screening is effective however not recommended for women under the age of 40.
Although not common, men can also get breast cancer. It is estimated that in 2016, 15,934 women and 150 men will be diagnosed.
There are many risk factors associated with breast cancer. Older women have an increased risk of breast cancer and once a woman is 40, she is eligible and encouraged to get regular mammograms.
An unhealthy lifestyle, alcohol consumption, smoking and being overweight, can make individuals more susceptible to breast cancer.
Breast cancer can also be genetic. Around five to ten per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of a gene mutation.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are commonly associated with hereditary breast cancer. Woman carrying these genes may also be more at risk of ovarian cancer.
Cancer Australia urges women to be aware of what their breasts normally look and feel like and to consult their GP if they find anything out of the ordinary. – Story by Ashleigh Cant, graphics by Lisa Solinareos, video produced by Lauren Croft.
See Opening the door on my breast cancer experience, a first-person piece by The Newsroom’s Fiona West.
Photo by James Mott.