by Dr Vanessa Atienza-Hipolito, Founding Member, The Brilliant Foundation
COTTESLOE, WA - In Australia, more people are surviving breast cancer than ever before. According to Cancer Council, Australia has one of the best breast cancer survival rates in the world. The five-year breast cancer survival rate for women with breast cancer is 91%. Thanks to advancements made through clinical trials, research, advanced treatments, preventions, and screening techniques are available now.
My mission is to educate women so that breast cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage, stage zero or one before it gets to stage three or four. As you know, the number of people diagnosed with breast cancer is increasing. Like me, I am directly and indirectly affected by breast cancer. I have relatives and friends who were diagnosed with breast cancer. I'm sure, there are a lot of people in our community who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or who knows someone who died of breast cancer.
FACT: Breast Cancer is the most diagnosed form of cancer in Australian woman
According to Breast Cancer Network Australia:
• 1 in 7 women and 1 in 555 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
• Approximately 57 Australians are diagnosed every day.
• In 2022, it is predicted that 20,428 women and 212 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer which is approximately 20,640 Australians will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
• In 2022, it is estimated thank 3,178 women and 36 men will die from breast cancer which is approximately 3,200 Australians will pass away from breast cancer.
• On average, 9 Australians die every day from breast cancer.
In Western Australia, early detection and improved treatments have led nine in every ten women diagnosed with breast cancer to have survived the disease. The number of people being diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia is increasing. On the contrary, the number of breast cancer deaths is decreasing. This is very important and great news and very significant for us because we are seeing a reduced number of deaths.
Knowing that breast cancer exists is not enough. There is a lot of breast cancer awareness, like Dr Google, the internet, breast cancer survivor advocacy groups, social media and in our community, and there is October Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But knowing is not enough, we need to be proactive with our health… to be in charge of our breast health so we can live a better and healthy future.
Why early breast cancer detection is important?
The best time to treat breast cancer is when it is still very small. Early detection of breast cancer will improve your chance of surviving the disease and there will be less extensive treatment and cost.
What are the early signs and symptoms of breast cancer?
Most people have no signs or symptoms of breast cancer.
Early detection is done by imaging: a Mammogram, breast ultrasound, or both.
A woman diagnosed with breast cancer has a better chance of surviving the disease if detected early.
This is an example of a tiny breast lump found incidentally during her supplementary ultrasound scans. She has no signs and symptoms. This lump was not palpable by her doctor and by me. This lump was not seen in her routine screening mammogram. It only measured approximately 6 mm in size. This lump can grow to a significant size undetected if she was not having her regular mammogram and breast ultrasound scans.
The goal of screening is to detect and diagnose breast cancer as early as 5 mm or less in size and before it can grow to a size where one can start to feel, before the lump may occupy almost the entire breast or before it can spread to the lymph glands or lymph nodes in the armpit. And the last thing we don't want to happen is for the disease to spread into the other parts of the body like the lungs, liver, bones, or brain.
This is an example of an advanced stage left breast in a 50-year-old woman who was referred by her doctor. This is her first mammogram. Her left breast is completely occupied by this tumour (A). There was already skin thickening, nipple, and skin retraction. Her cancer on the ultrasound measured almost 8 centimetres in size, almost occupying her entire left breast (B).
Women mustn't wait for a change, a lump, or symptoms in their breasts. Get checked even if you don't feel anything. Preventive medicine is the key to your breast health. Breast cancer awareness should not be only in October Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it should be all year round. AWARENESS is not enough; it is time to act and prioritise your mammogram appointment in your calendar.
Traditionally, a mammogram screening is every 2 years in a woman without symptoms. However, annual screening mammograms are recommended if one has a significant family history of breast cancer and other risk factors for breast cancer or needs to be screened under 40 if one has breast symptoms. I encourage women not need to wait until they are 50 years old to get a mammogram.
I had my first mammogram at 40. Women need to know that mammograms should begin at 40, not 50!
You are overdue if you are in your 40s and have never had a mammogram or breast ultrasound. You are long overdue if you are 50 and above and never had a mammogram. Screening must start at 40.
In Australia, women from 40 years and over can have a free mammogram every 2 years, and women aged 50 to 74 are actively invited to screen.
Do you have lumpy breasts, me too! It is still important to do your regular Self-Breast Check
In doing your monthly self-breast check, for example, on the 1st day of the month, please do not look for any lumps and bumps. Looking for any lump in your breasts and armpits, especially if you do this every day, will drive you mad and insane. Please do not do that.
My expert advice is to know your normal lumps and bumps. A woman's breasts are expected to be lumpy and bumpy normally anyway, especially if you belong to a younger age group and if you have a low or normal body mass index (BMI).
Remember, your breasts are comprised of fats and glandular breast tissue. Fat is soft while glandular breast tissue is firm or lumpier compared to fats. Every day and depending on your menstrual cycle, your breasts change, maybe lumpy bumpy which fluctuates depending on your hormones. This can often cause undue anxiety and stress to some women.
If you are unsure or may have breast lumps or symptoms, do not delay booking your appointment with your doctor.
About the author:
Dr Vanessa Atienza-Hipolito FRANZCR is the Clinical Director, Specialist of Breast Imaging and Intervention and business owner of Women’s & Breast Imaging (WBI), Cottesloe, Western Australia. She is an Adjunct Clinical Senior Lecturer at the Curtin University and The University of Western Australia.
Her commitment to breast care has taken her out of the clinical environment, and into the online space, to create a platform that complements Dr Vanessa's clinical services. As of 2022, she is a published author of three anthology books, two of which were listed in Amazon’s bestselling list. She is a Founding Member of The Brilliant Foundation and is a community ambassador of the Ladybird Foundation.
She is married with a son and daughter and contributes actively to her community in numerous ways by providing community health education, ensuring they have access to current information on optimal care for breast health and the best available breast imaging technology.
In her spare time, Dr Vanessa loves singing in the choir, triathlon, swimming in the ocean, running, cycling, playing tennis, playing scrabble games with the family, and travelling.
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