In Australia all women have at least a 1 in 11 (9%) chance of developing breast cancer by the age of 75 years. The best screening test we have currently is a mammogram. Mammograms are free to women aged 40-74 every 2 years. Breastscreen target women aged 50-70 because abnormalities are more likely to be picked up in this age group. A mammogram is an x-ray where the breast tissue is placed between two plates, it is not a pleasant examination but often is tolerated better than women think. The x-ray is then reviewed for abnormalities.
If you have any breast symptoms – a new lump, skin change, nipple discharge, lumps under the armpits, apparent eczema on the nipple, breast tenderness or are simply concerned about breast cancer then please see your GP. You should have a breast examination and then be sent for the appropriate radiological investigation (like an ultrasound or mammogram or biopsy) if needed. Breastscreen prefer to see women who have NO symptoms – hence it is a screening test.
Only a small percentage of breast cancer is heritable – so for most women who develop breast cancer they will have NO family history. Men can also develop breast cancer but their risk is about 100 times less than a women’s risk. Remember healthy habits like having a balanced diet full of fruit and vegetables, limited alcohol, no smoking, plenty of exercise and maintaining a healthy weight will help reduce your risk of breast cancer. If you have had augmentation surgery you can still have a mammogram. The pressure put on the x-ray plates is reduced to prevent any implant damage. Otherwise an ultrasound can be performed.
To contact Breastscreen to start your 2 yearly mammograms and reminders please call 13 20 50 or see their website www.breastscreen.qld.gov.au. If you are concerned about any breast symptoms then please see your GP.
Dr Tanya McGhee.