If your focus is on breast cancer prevention, the GP will examine you, ask you questions about any symptoms you are concerned about, & discuss lifestyle factors. If you have specific symptoms that are of concern, you may be referred to a specialist for further screening, such as for an ultrasound, biopsy, or mammogram. Some testing options are also available which can help you understand your risks.
It is important that you regularly monitor your breasts to ensure that you notice any changes or unusual symptoms as early as possible, & get yourself checked by a doctor. Although breast cancer is quite a widespread cancer, affecting 1 in 8 women over the course of their lifetime, treatment is more effective the earlier it begins, & increased awareness means an increase in successful treatment.
The three major risk factors for breast cancer are a family history of the disease, getting older, & being a woman. (Breast cancer affects men as well, although at a fraction of the rate. One in 870 men develops breast cancer in their lifetime, compared with 1 in 8 women. Around 0.5% of breast cancer diagnoses are male.) Other factors include reproductive history, hormone levels, lifestyle factors, & weight gain (post-menopausal weight gain in particular).
Around 5% of people diagnosed with breast cancer have it genetically through the BRCA1 & BRCA2 genes. If you are concerned about your family history with regard to breast cancer, these genes can be tested for – ask the doctor about this when you have your next appointment.
The majority of breast cancer diagnoses occur in women in their 50s.
It is important to be aware of any changes to your breasts. Symptoms that could potentially be a sign of breast cancer include:
• A swelling or lump in the breast
• Swellings or lumps in the armpits or around the collarbones
• Areas of dense breast tissue
• Changes in appearance, size, or shape of the breasts
• Changes in the skin surface (puckering, unevenness, or dimpling)
• Red rash on the skin of the breasts or nipples
• Discharge from the nipples
The symptoms of breast cancer can be subtle, which is why it’s important to check yourself regularly. More often than not, a lump or a change in breast tissue will have a benign (non-cancerous) cause, but nonetheless it is good to pay attention & report anything unusual to your doctor.