Breast Cancer Awareness – Symptoms and Diagnosis

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month in Australia. Currently 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. This can seem like a very scary figure. Thankfully with advances in diagnosis and treatment,  survivorship has dramatically increased. Along with this increase in survivorship and knowledge, breast cancer patients can also thrive after diagnosis.

A part of surviving and thriving is early detection. There are many signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and when caught early enough, survival rates are high – just over 90% at 5 years, but we want to make this figure even better! Know what these signs and symptoms are, and if you have any go straight to your GP. Symptoms include:

  • Lump in the breast or armpit area (can be painful or not);
  • Any pain in the breast or armpit area (that does not go away);
  • Discharge from your nipple;
  • Nipple changing shape or inverting (if previously not);
  • Changes in shape and size of your breast; and
  • Pain and/or redness in the breast

Get in the habit of checking your breasts regularly (just after your period or a designated day of the month if post-menopausal). Checking includes a visual inspection, as well as, a physical examination.  One tip is to do it in the shower with soap, as it can help make your self-examination easier. Also remember include an examination while lying down and also with your arms raised. This will enable you to thoroughly examine all parts of your breast. If you have a partner – get them in on the act as well!!!

If you do find a lump or have any of the symptoms, go to your doctor to get a referral for diagnostic services. A high percentage of lumps are not cancerous, but it is always best to err on the side of caution. You may be referred for a mammogram which is like an X-ray and can show up any lumps or abnormalities. Ultrasounds are another method and use sound waves to detect lumps. Ultrasounds can differentiate between cysts (which are fluid filled) and solid masses. Lastly you may be referred for an MRI – which is a sophisticated imaging tool. MRI’s are usually only used if a person is deemed high risk or one of the previous methods indicate the need for further investigations.

So what happens when a lump is found? A biopsy of the lump will be undertaken and a pathologist will review. If it does come back as cancer, then your doctor will refer you to a breast surgeon and treatment options will be discussed.

I know a diagnosis of cancer is scary  (I have been there) – but you will not be alone and there are many things that you can do to make sure you thrive after this diagnosis.

If you would like further information, please book in for a consult.

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