We had some GREAT questions after last Thursday’s session and I spent some time this week on the internet and on the phone with some lovely people at CancerCare Manitoba, collecting more information for our group on breast health.
We probably all know – or know of – people our age who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s unnerving. But I got some interesting stats from CancerCare Manitoba this week. They let me know that the 1 in 9 risk rate we all hear about all the time refers to the number of Canadian women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer by their 85th birthday. The numbers for 25 year old women are 1 in almost 20,000. You can extrapolate and make an educated guess about your own risk based on your own age.
If someone in your family has had breast cancer, I definitely understand that there is more to think (and maybe worry) about. There is information available about risk rates based on type of cancer, age of cancer, number of relatives affected, degree of relatives affected, etc. It’s a complicated science (mixed with a bit of art) and it’s best to talk to your doctor.
We used to hear a lot about doing regular monthly self-exams, and that’s not really recommended anymore – but not because it’s not important. It is. But research has shown that this very rigid, scheduled kind of ‘exam’ isn’t as effective as it should be. Instead, we should all be familiar with our own breasts and very aware of any lumps or changes going on. But just because you note something unusual, there might not be a reason to hit the panic button right away. There are many reasons for changes in our breasts – and even lumps – and it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it for a week or two and see if something changes. It could be the time of month that you checked. It could be mastitis or a plugged milk duct. It could be lots of things. But, yes, it could be an honest to goodness (dreaded) lump. Of course, trust your gut. No doctor in the world is going to be mad at you for scheduling an appointment if you’re truly concerned. And if the unusual changes you’ve noted hang around, definitely make an appointment.
The answers I received about self exams while breastfeeding were along the same lines… While we’re breastfeeding, it can be harder than usual to note changes – because those changes are happening CONSTANTLY. But it’s our job to be aware, to try treating more obvious causes first (like warm compresses for plugged ducts), and to trust our instincts which includes following up with your doctor if you’re concerned about ANY changes with your breasts.
Yes, it’s harder to stay on top of these things when we’re busy with babies. But it’s FOR our babies. And I know I don’t have to tell you that.
There are SO MANY great resources online if you’d like to know more – and CancerCare Manitoba will be sending out information on how to do an effective self-exam that we’ll have at MOMs when it comes in.
The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation offers this advice for being ‘breast aware’:
1. Know how your breasts normally look and feel.
2. Know what changes to look for.
3. Look and feel for changes.
4. Report any changes to a doctor.
5. Go for a free mammogram if you are of the appropriate age or if recommended by a doctor.
There’s more information about risk factors here. The truth is that there are some things on the list that you can affect and others you can’t – and at the end of the day, there’s no magical combination of checklist items that can absolutely guarantee that you won’t get breast cancer (or that you will).
A lot of information, I know – but hopefully there will be a few useful tidbits in here for everyone!