WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BREAST CANCER….
Full-term pregnancies offer a long-term protective effect against breast cancer. Women who have their first baby before age 30 have a slightly lower risk of developing the disease in their lifetime, and the more babies you have, the greater the protective effect.
However, studies also suggest women have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer for a period after childbirth. The evidence isn’t clear how long that risk lasts, with estimates ranging from a few months to seven years!
What’s important is not to dismiss changes in your breasts after having a baby, or assume any changes to be the result of hormones or a blocked milk duct. While that may be the case, the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation recommends women check out any changes with their doctor and discuss whether a mammogram is needed.
…in your 20s
* Breast cancer at this age is rare. But from age 20 you should be aware of the normal look and feel of your breasts so you can identify any changes in future.
* If you notice a change in your breast –such as a lump, swelling, inverted nipple or discharge, or a change in the skin or nipple, like dimpling, puckering or reddening –then see your doctor.
* Now’s the time to ask about your family history of breast and ovarian (which can also mean a higher breast cancer risk) cancers. Only 5-10% of breast cancers are due to inherited factors, but those cancers can be more aggressive.
* Set yourself up for a lifetime of good habits: moderate your alcohol intake, have a healthy BMI and exercise regularly.
* Remind your mum, aunts and grand-mother to go for their mammograms!
…in your 30s
* If you have a mother or sister who developed breast or ovarian cancer before age 50, you need to start having mammograms 10 years before the age they were diagnosed.
* If you have the BRCA1 / BRCA2 gene mutation (identified through genetic testing in families with a strong history of breast or ovarian cancer) you should have a breast MRI every year from age 30.
* Maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a good diet and low alcohol intake.
* Breast-feed your babies for as long as possible.
…in your 40s
* You’re entering a higher risk stage of life so now’s the time to consider having an annual mammogram. From age 40 to 44, you’ll need to pay for it yourself. Currently, a mammogram costs about $160 –it might seem a lot, but it’s money well spent for peace of mind and the sake of your family.
* Ask your GP to examine your breasts at least once a year. Continue to monitor the look and feel of your breasts and report any changes that worry you, or anything that doesn’t seem normal, to your doctor.
* Enrol in the free BreastScreen Aotearoa programme when you turn 45. You’ll get a free mammogram every second year.
* Tell your friends, your sister and your mum to go for their mammograms.
How many like me?
In an average year, about 12 NZ women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their 20s; 150 in their 30s; and 550 in their 40s.
We thank the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation for supplying this useful information about breast cancer. As with so many things, education is the key. For more info, visit takeaction.org.nz.