Unfortunately, Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. It is the major cause of death from cancer for women aged between 30 and 60 years. A change in breast size or shape that seems unrelated to your menstrual cycle.
The cause of breast cancer is currently unknown.
Frighteningly, women who decide against having children until their 30's or choose not to have children at all are often more likely to get breast cancer.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have a mother, sister or relative who has had breast cancer this increases the risk for you as does a personal history of non-malignant cystic breast disease.
Women whose periods started before the age of 12 or finished after the age of 50 also face a greater risk of breast cancer. There are claims that Hormone replacement therapy and the contraceptive pill have effects on Breast Cancer, but there is no strong evidence to support these claims. Women who have suffered with cancer of the womb can also be at a greater risk of breast cancer.
The earliest sign of breast cancer is a single painless firm to hard lump. The edges of the lump are not sharp and stretch out gradually into the surrounding tissue if felt between the fingers. If there is a lump which feels as though it is attached to the skin or to the deeper breast tissue, this could be alter cancer.. You may see some "puckering" of skin above the lump, or the nipple may begin to retract (go "inside" your breast)
Eventually the breast will enlarge, become hard, accompanied with inflammation and pain. Almost half of breast cancers begin in the nipple or outer and upper quarter of the breast.
Of course the earlier a cancer of the breast is discovered, the better the chances of a complete recovery.
The simplest test for breast cancer is a one that women should carry out each month.
Breast Self Examination this takes only a few minutes and should be done at the same time each month, preferably just after your period has finished. Often a good place to d this is in the shower with soap so you can feel more easily the texture of your breasts or lying flat on your bed with one hand behind your head while examining the opposite breast with your free hand.
If you ever notice changes in your breasts, no matter the change or how "silly" you may feel, you should contact your doctor immediately. The good news is that almost all lumps are quite harmless, but it is best to make sure.
Other warning signs to watch for include:
Discharge from the nipple, especially if it is spontaneous and from only one breast.
A change in the colour or texture of the skin of the breast or areola (the darker area around the nipple), such as dimpling, puckering (like an orange peel), or scaliness.
Erosion of the nipple.
Your doctor, women's health centre, family planning centre or the Cancer Council in your state will be able to give you information on the correct way to examine your breasts.
Mammography used as a screening procedure in apparently cancer free women is the only way to effectively detect breast cancer.
From age 20 to 39, you should get a breast exam by a physician or other trained specialist at least every three years. From age 40 on, get one annually. Over 50 it should be done every 18 to 24 months. The good news is that almost all lumps are quite harmless, but it is best to make sure.
Remember, breasts vary in size, shape, and resiliency, and it is normal for breasts to be a little lumpy or uneven. Most women's breast will continue to change over their lifetime. These changes can come with the menstrual cycle, age, use of birth control pills, pregnancy or other hormones, menopause, or injury. Though most changes, including new lumps, are not likely to be breast cancer, it's still important for you to discuss them with your doctor.
- Michelle Palmer