On 19 June 2014 the Office of National Statistics released the latest available figures for the 10 most common cancers in the UK for men and women. The figures relate to 2012. Of a total of 281,118 new cancer diagnoses that year, 137,712 related to women and 42,489 were breast cancer diagnoses. The most common cancer amongst men was prostate cancer with 37,136 diagnoses.
More women than ever before are surviving breast cancer. Forty years ago only 50 per cent of breast cancer patients were alive 5 years later. Today this figure has gone up to 80 per cent. The growing survival rates are greatly due to improved treatment methods and increased awareness amongst women which leads to early diagnosis. The effectiveness of treatment has a lot to do with early detection.
Healthy breast checklist
This Breast Cancer Awareness Month we bring you a healthy breast checklist:
Monitor your breasts, upper chest and armpits regularly. Breast cancers produce few warning signs and hardly ever cause pain. Beyond a vague discomfort, often the first thing people notice is an abnormal lump in their breast or other detectable signs.
Know how your breasts look and feel so you know what is normal for you. You will then be able to detect any changes rapidly and seek medical advice.
· A lump or an area of thickened tissue in either breast.
· A change in size or shape of one or both breasts.
· Discharge from your nipples (which may be streaked with blood).
· A lump or swelling in either of your armpits.
· Dimpling on the skin of your breast/s.
· A rash on or around your nipple.
· A change in the appearance of your nipple, particularly an inverted nipple.
· Pain in either breast or armpits not related to your period.
When to examine your breasts
Get into the routine of examining yourself when in the bath or shower or when getting dressed. Some women find this easier and more comfortable to do after their monthly period, but try to get used to looking at and feeling your breasts regularly and at different times of your monthly cycle as well so you know what is normal for you. Peri and post-menopausal women also need to regularly examine their breast for changes, as the incidence of breast cancer increases with age
- Remember to examine all parts of your breast, including your armpits and up to your collarbone.
- Inspecting your breasts in front of the mirror will help you see visible signs easier.
- Find an examination process that works for you covering all the breast tissue, armpits and collar bone.
Are all lumps cancerous?
If you find a lump on your breast it does not mean that you have cancer. Benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions are very common. Women’s breasts are constantly going through natural changes during the reproductive years. This is as a result of normal responses to the ageing process along with fluctuations in hormone levels. Most changes in the breast are part of normal breast development and changes in our hormone levels. Benign breast conditions such as cysts, calcification and fibrous lumps are much more common than breast cancer.
Breast cancer risk factors
Unfortunately science has not yet identified what triggers breast cancer. We do know however that there are risk factors which may increase our chances of getting the illness:
- Gender – although men can also get breast cancer, post patients are women.
- Age – the risk increases with age.
- Genes - around 5% of people diagnosed with breast cancer have inherited a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
- Dense breast tissue – women who have denser breast increase their chance of developing breast cancer.
- Height –Experts do not know why but taller-than-average women have a slightly greater likelihood of developing breast cancer than shorter-than-average women.
- Oestrogen exposure – women who are exposed to oestrogen for longer i.e. start menstruating earlier or entered menopause later than usual. Hormone replacement therapy can also increase the risk.
- Obesity – obese or overweight women usually have higher oestrogen levels in there bodies’ which cause a higher risk.
- Alcohol consumption – the more alcohol a woman regularly drinks so the risk of her developing breast cancer.
Be alcohol aware
Perhaps one of the risk factors which require increased awareness is the connection between alcohol and cancer. According to the charity Alcohol Concern, 34% of men and 28% of women drink indulge in what is commonly known as binge drinking at least once a week. More worryingly 9% of men and 6% of women drink very heavily (i.e. 3 times over the advised limit) on at least one day a week. There is evidence shows that women have a 9.5 per cent risk rate of getting breast cancer before they reach the age of 75. If they drink regularly the risk goes up to 10.6 per cent.
- The million women study
The million women study is an ongoing study involving more than a million UK women over the age of 50. It is investigating how reproductive and lifestyle factors affect women’s health. One of the findings of the study is that the risk of developing breast cancer increases by 7.1 per cent for each 10 grams of alcohol drunk which is slightly over 1 unit of alcohol.
Another study, carried out at St Louis’ Washington University School of Medicine found that if a woman has one drink a day between her first period and her first full-term pregnancy, she increases the risk of breast cancer by 13 per cent.
Alcohol causes cancer and the risk is not just for heavy drinkers. You do not to have to be drunk in order to be endangering your health. It might as well be pointed out that the International Agency for Research into Cancer has classified alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen.
of the breast cancer risk factors are given facts which cannot be avoided.
Others such as alcohol consumption and living a healthy lifestyle are within
our control. In this article we have concentrated on the potentially dangerous
effects of alcohol to drive home how lifestyle choices can be our undoing. Let
us take our health into our own hands and be breast aware this October.