2,600 New Zealand women are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and six to seven hundred women die from breast cancer each year. The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation (NZBCF) is a non-government funded trust. Funds raised are invested in community education and awareness programmes, into research and medical grants and ensuring the high profile of breast cancer.
Early detection is the key to survival. Self breast examination may increase your likelihood of early detection and is recommended from 20 years of age. You can do this in front of a mirror or in the shower. The technique you use doesn’t seem to matter. If a women develops early stages of breast cancer, there is usually no pain and there may be no symptoms at all. As the cancer grows, the following symptoms could appear:
- A persistent lump or thickening in the breast or armpit area
- Changes in the colour or skin of the breast, areola or nipple
- Blood or discharge from the nipple
- A change in the size or shape of the breast.
Women should consult their doctor if they notice any of these changes. Nine out of ten breast lumps and changes are found to be harmless. And even cancer is detected, if it’s less than 1cm in size there’s a 90% chance of being alive ten years later. BreastScreen Aotearoa offers free screening mammograms to all women aged 45 to 69 who have no symptoms of breast cancer. A mammogram is a very low dose breast tissue x-ray used to pick up breast changes. They can detect lumps or thickenings in the tissues that are too small to be felt and so help with early diagnosis.
Screening is done every two years. At least two radiologists check the mammograms for breast cancer and results will be sent to you within two weeks. A small number of women will be phoned to come back because something needs further checking. This may involve more mammograms, an ultrasound and perhaps the taking of a small sample of breast tissue for examination under a microscope. Most women recalled will not have breast cancer. For your first free mammogram, you need to enrol in the programme by phoning 0800 270 200.
General good health may make a difference too. Be physically active, maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy low-fat diet and limit alcohol. Eating foods high in antioxidants may help to boost the immune system and help fight cancer cells. All fresh and raw fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, with red grapes, berries, apples and avocados being rich sources.