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Self Care : October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

by Dr Vanessa Atienza-Hipolito, Founding Member, The Brilliant Foundation

COTTESLOE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA - Breast cancer does not discriminate. Age is no barrier. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I would like to emphasize the importance of preventive medicine and self-care. We live in a dynamic world and with the busyness of our work, personal lives, kids, the demands of household chores while juggling our careers, it is inevitable to put aside our health.

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation:

  • 1 in 7 women and 1 in 700 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime

  • In 2021 to date, over 3,138 Australians have passed away from breast cancer

  • On average 9 Australians die every day from breast cancer.

It is my personal mission and advocacy to educate women. Currently, there is a lack of breast health and imaging awareness particularly in Asian women. I would like to empower them to make a well-informed decision regarding their breast health.

Knowledge is power but it will be more powerful if women will take charge and proactive with regards to their breast health by showing up yearly or every 2 years for their breast screening from 40 years old onwards and younger if they have a significant family history.

A woman diagnosed with breast cancer has a better chance of surviving the disease if detected early by imaging: a Mammogram, or breast ultrasound, or both. Women should regularly book an appointment for their breast tests before she can feel a lump and before her doctor can feel it. She should not need to wait until they are 50 years old to get a mammogram.

Women should not wait for a change, a lump or symptoms in your breast. While more people are being diagnosed with breast cancer each year, thanks to improved screening techniques and treatments, less people are dying from the disease.

Women should also enquire if they have dense breasts. They need to ask their GPs for an ultrasound scan to supplement their screening mammogram. Women with dense breasts have 4-6 times greater risk to develop breast cancer when compared to women with fatty breasts.

For any female, it can be overwhelming having a breast scan and a breast biopsy. As a Breast Imaging Specialist, it is my top priority to ease my patients’ concerns and ensure that their experience is as stress free and relaxed as possible.

Every day, I hear a lot of anxiety, confusion, misunderstanding and misinformation about breast cancer screening and detection especially my patients and clinicians under 50 years and over 75 years of age.

It can be heartbreaking to diagnose advanced stage or late-stage breast cancer especially in younger women and elderly. Most of them do not know when to start screening and what age to continue screening.

As women are unsure of their breast care plan, most are misinformed, confused, and discouraged to go for routine checks. Because of these issues, I have been inspired to provide pro-bono educational forums for General Practitioners, actively collaborating to local community organisations and giving presentations to the public about the importance of breast cancer health check and update on advanced imaging technology.

To all mums, aunties, grandparents, besties and women in your community, I am encouraging you to make time to see your GPs for your routine clinical breast examination, book your mammogram appointment and discuss the need for a supplementary breast ultrasound check.

To the men in this community, I encourage you to lovingly prompt those special women in your life for them to make time and prioritise their breast health check and imaging tests.