Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women in Australia. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 85. Like most cancers, the chance of survival is much better when the cancer is discovered early. Because of this, it is important that women check their breasts and get mammograms regularly.
What are Mammograms?
A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast, it can be used to identify potential cancers within the breast. There are two different types of mammograms: screening mammograms and diagnostic mammograms. Screening mammograms are for women who have no symptoms of breast cancer, and are done more quickly to have an overview to make sure there is nothing abnormal. Diagnostic mammograms are for women who have already detected a lump or other symptoms of breast cancer, and require more detailed imaging to analyse the lump. This process is longer and involves more radiation.
The process of getting a mammogram may be daunting and can be uncomfortable. All radiographers at BreastScreen are female and will respect your privacy and comfort as much as possible.
Do I need a mammogram?
Women aged 50—74 will be invited to have a screening mammogram for free at BreastScreen Australia every two years. Women who are aged 40-49 or over 75 are also able to get free mammograms at BreastScreen, however will not receive an official invite. If you have a strong family history of breast cancer or a known genetic mutation that pre-disposes you to breast cancer (eg a BRCA mutation), you may discuss with your doctor whether you should get screening earlier (but remember, less than 5% of breast cancers are due to genetics). For women under 40, the breast tissue tends to be too dense for the mammogram to get an accurate image.
Self-checking your breasts:
Along with mammograms, it is important that women check their own breasts regularly for any irregularities. This can be done simply in a private space such as the shower by lifting one arm up and behind your head, and using the opposite arm to feel all the areas of the breast (including underneath and up to your shoulder and armput) in a massage-like motion. It is important to be familiar with how your breasts normally feel and change with your menstrual cycle, and if you notice any irregularities to see your doctor.
Symptoms and Signs of Breast Cancer:
Breast cancer may look like:
A lump, lumpiness or thickening of the breast
Change in the appearance of the breast’s skin, such as puckering or a rash
Persistent breast pain
A change in size or shape of breast
Discharge from the nipple or change in nipple shape
What should I do if I feel a lump?
It is important if you feel a lump in your breast to see your doctor, who will examine the lump as well. You will then get a diagnostic mammogram (rather than a screening mammogram) and may require a biopsy. With these three tests, nearly 100% of cancers will be detected.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, feel free to book an appointment with one of our friendly doctors by booking online or contacting us by phone on 8269 6000.
Cancer.gov. 2018. Mammograms – National Cancer Institute . [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/mammograms-fact-sheet. [Accessed 28 May 2018].
Breast Screen Victoria. 2018. The Facts – Breast Screen Victoria . [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.breastscreen.org.au/Breast-Screening/The-Facts#sm.001x9a89bsmhf9f117s2r8belg72k. [Accessed 28 May 2018].
Cancer Council Australia. 2018. Breast cancer fact sheet. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/early-detection/early-detection-factsheets/breast-cancer.html. [Accessed 28 May 2018].
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