Health & Wellbeing

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast cancer is one of the third most common cancers in New Zealand, with more than 3,000 women and 25 men diagnosed each year.  While Breast cancer rarely kills unless it's spread beyond the breast, 9 Kiwi women are diagnosed each day, and 650 will die of the disease every year. 

October is International Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which aims to bring awareness to Breast cancer and the work of the Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.  BCFNZ are working towards a vision of zero deaths from Breast cancer, promoting breast awareness to women and men and encouraging the development of new technologies and testing. While there is still work to be done, statistics have shown with early detection of breast cancer that has not spread beyond the breast, the disease will rarely kill. 

This month we look at what Breast cancer is, the signs of Breast cancer and outlook for those diagnosed. 

What is Breast cancer? 

Breast cancer occurs when abnormal breast cells grow in an uncontrolled way, forming malignant tumours (cancerous). These cancer cells can spread beyond the breast, via the lymphatic system or blood stream. 

There are several types of Breast cancer and why they develop is still not well understood. The two main types of Breast cancer are Pre-inavsive and Invasive. Pre-invasive is Stage 0 cancer, where abnormal cells have not yet had the chance to spread to other parts of the breast. Invasive Breast cancer is where the abnormal cells have spread into surrounding tissues and have the potential to spread throughout the body. 

Research shows that Breast cancer most typically occurs in women over 50, with this age group accounting for 70-75% of those diagnosed. It is important to note that women under the age of 50 can also be diagnosed, although it is less common. Women under the age of 40 years accont for around 6% of diagnoses. Breast cancer can also affect men, with around 25 men diagnosed each year. Statistics show that in New Zealand, more Māori women are affected than others. 

There are risk factors that can pre-dispose you to Breast cancer, some which can and can’t be changed. Factors that can’t be changed include increasing age, family history and a genetic risk often the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations. Some of the factors which may increase your risk of developing Breast cancer that can be changed is being overweight, low level of physical activity and certain medications such as oral contraceptives which can increase a person’s risk if they have a history or known gene mutations.  

What are the signs?

Early Breast cancer can be hard to detect by self-checking, as a small tumour will often not be easily felt, cause pain or give off any obvious signs. This is when detection is the best method, and result in the best outcome. 

Sings to look out for include:

  • A new lump or thickening
  • Inverted nipple
  • Nipple discharge
  • Crustiness on nipple
  • Dimples, puckering or dents 
  • Reddened orange peel-like skin
  • Unusual pain
  • Shape change 

These signs don’t always indicate Breast cancer; however, it is important to see a doctor for assessment if you do notice any of these symptoms. 

In New Zealand, screening for Breast cancer is offered to all women aged 45 to 69 years and is free. Regardless of age, it is important to Touch, Look and Check your breasts regularly, and the Breast Cancer Foundation NZ provides further information on how to do this here. 

What is the outlook?

Although 650 women will die of the disease every year, the good news is that Breast cancer rarely kills unless it has spread beyond the breast. 

Over 85% of people with breast cancer will survive over 10 year and statistics have shown that there has been a 43% decrease in mortality rate related to Breast cancer over the past 23 years, since free screening was introduced. Regular mammograms and self-checks can save lives, detecting cancer early before it has spread. 

You can support the work of BCFNZ and donate here

Sources: 

https://www.breastcancerfoundation.org.nz/breast-awareness/breast-cancer-facts

https://www.southerncross.co.nz/medical-library/cancers/breast-cancer-symptoms-diagnosis-and-treatment

https://www.breastcancerfoundation.org.nz/breast-awareness/taking-care-of-your-breasts

https://www.timetoscreen.nz/breast-screening/why-go/

 

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