Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2019
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this year more than ever women are being encouraged to become more breast aware.
In Ireland, 1 in 10 women will develop breast cancer and it’s the 2nd most common cause of cancer amongst women in Ireland (number 1 is skin cancer) and affects 2,500 women each year.
Breast cancer occurs when the cells in your breast start to grow in an abnormal, unregulated way, spreading to different areas of your body, or metastasising.
Causes of breast cancer aren’t fully understood but certain factors can increase your risk of developing breast cancer, such as:
- Being a woman – women have a higher chance of getting breast cancer than men.
- Age – the majority of those who develop skin cancer are over 50.
- Family History – having a strong family history of breast cancer can increase your risk. This can include having close family members who have had breast/ovarian cancer or a family member who had breast cancer under the age of 50.
- Gene mutations in an inherited gene called BRCA1 & BRCA2 can increase your chances of developing breast cancer. The BRCA genes are tumour suppressors and once mutated can increase your risk.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) – those on HRT are at an increased risk. However, your risk decreases as your stop the therapy.
- The Pill – taking the pill increases your risk slightly but decreases once you stop taking it.
- Benign Breast Conditions – having being diagnosed with benign breast conditions increases your risk of developing breast cancer. However, your doctor should have discussed this with you.
Approximately 16 men each year in Ireland develop breast cancer.
Signs & Symptoms
There are various signs and symptoms to look out for, such as:
- A lump or thickness in the breast.
- A change in shape or direction of the nipple.
- A change in shape or size, such as one breast becoming larger than the other.
- An unusual discharge coming from the nipple.
- Abnormal pain or sensitivity in the breasts.
- Swelling in the armpit or collarbone region – due to the presence of lymph nodes in this region.
If you spot one of these signs, visit your GP immediately to discuss and concerns. The chances are that it will not be cancer. However, getting symptoms checked by your GP is very important. The sooner cancer is identified, the sooner treatment can begin, and recovery is more likely.
Know what is normal
It’s vital to know what is normal or average for you so you can identify changes easily. Changes in hormones during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause can all affect your breasts and it is important to know what’s abnormal.
Menstrual cycle – your period breasts can become tender, bigger, lumpy at different stages of your period, depending on the person.
Pregnancy – during pregnancy, hormone levels of oestrogen and progesterone can cause your breasts to become tender, this is especially apparent in the first trimester. During the second trimester they become less tender and during the third, nipples tend to become darker.
Menopause – after menopause breasts tend to become softer (due to increases in fat deposition) and may become larger or smaller. If you notice changes in only one breast, visit your GP to discuss.
How to reduce your risks?
There are multiple things that can be done to reduce your risks of developing breast cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight – being a healthy weight can reduce your risk of developing cancer. This is because the fat cells in our body develop hormones and certain hormones at high levels can increase your risk.
- Be active – Women who are physically active have a lower risk of breast cancer than less active women. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 5 times a week.
- Reduce alcohol intake – alcohol increases risk of cancer, reducing intake can reduce those risks.
- Stop smoking – smoking has been shown to increase your risk of breast cancer. 30% of all cancers are caused by smoking.
- Breastfeed your baby – it has been shown that breastfeeding your baby reduces the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Check your breasts regularly – The below image shows how to check your breast for any irregularities.
Breast Cancer Support
The Irish Cancer Society has a Cancer Nurseline, Freephone 1800 200 700 if you have any queries or issues. They also have Daffodil centres around the country where you can gain advice on lifestyle changes and how to reduce your risk. Visit their website here for further information.
Daffodil Day is the Irish Cancer Society’s biggest fundraising day and will take place 22 March 2020. Make sure to support them, so they can continue offering valuable support to those in need across Ireland.