As a breast cancer charity, October is quite possibly the most important month of the year as it is, of course, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Each year, the nation’s attention is focused on inspirational stories from breast cancer survivors, ground-breaking research into new treatments and devastating mortality rates. And we want to help explain how to look out for the disease through the decades of your life.
For us, we’re committed to standing out amid the ‘pink mist’ and flying the flag for preventing the disease in future generations. As important as preventative drugs and gene research are, educating individuals on how to reduce their own risk and self-check is essential; however, knowing what to do, and at what age, is important. Here, our chairman, Lester Barr, shares his advice on breast cancer through the decades.
“At the earliest opportunity, women in their 20s should check their family history for breast cancer. If one family member battled the disease before the age of 40 or two members did before 50, then it’s a good idea to speak to your GP about being referred to a family history clinic. It’s essential that young women are fully clued up on whether they have a predisposition to breast cancer – it could be that they carry the BRCA gene mutation or other genetic variations.
“Women under 30 have a 1 in 1,000 chance of developing the disease; however, women should still take steps to protect themselves for the future.”
“From age 30, women should become ‘breast aware’ and begin checking their breasts once a month. Of course, younger women should do this too, but from 30 onwards, you should make a habit of doing it regularly. Women should become familiar with what’s normal for them and check themselves by running a soapy hand over each breast and up under each armpit while in the shower or bath. It’s important to check for any lumps – including under the arm – as well as dimpling, nipple discharge or bleeding and lumps under the arm.
“It’s also important to lead a well-balanced lifestyle and exercise regularly, staying at a healthy weight, especially after childbirth.”
“If a woman has a family history of breast cancer, then regular mammograms should begin from age 40. If there’s no family connection to the disease, then attending screenings from 47 – the age at which the NHS Breast Cancer Screening Programme will first invite you – is essential to spot any signs early.
“Around two per cent of women between 30 and 50 will develop breast cancer. However, if the cancer is caught early, then treatment measures can be put in place straight away, giving the patient a greater chance of survival.”
“From the age of 50, the chances of developing breast cancer begin to increase, as around four per cent of women will be diagnosed. As with all ages, it’s important to follow a healthy diet, with a Mediterranean-style eating plan having been proven to help reduce the risk of the disease.
“We all produce insulin, but as you get heavier, your body struggles to respond to it properly and you keep producing more. Insulin is, in fact, a cancer promoter; therefore, the heavier a person is, the more likely they are to develop cancer, along with other diseases, such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Therefore, if a woman can remain at a stable weight, then they keep their chances of having breast cancer as low as possible.”
“As women get older, it’s extremely important that they continue to attend screening appointments and check themselves regularly. While there are no specific signs that women in this age group should look for, some women can get complacent and be lulled into a false sense of security, as they think they might be ‘too old’ for cancer to strike. In fact, the opposite is true and they are at a higher risk than they would have been 20 years earlier.”
Find out more about being breast aware and understanding risk factors [https://preventbreastcancer.org.uk/about-breast-cancer/be-breast-aware/]