Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women but the encouraging news is that the five-year survival rate has increased by 17% in the past two decades, mainly attributable to earlier detection and better treatment.
Each person’s prognosis depends on the type and stage of cancer as well as their age and overall health at the time of diagnosis. If the cancer is limited to the breast, 96% of patients will be alive five years after diagnosis, although this figure excludes those who die from other diseases. If the cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes, five-year survival rate is 80%.
To help with early detection, it is important for women to be familiar with the normal look and feel of their breasts and immediately report changes to their doctor.
The Cancer Council advises that the changes to be alert for include new lumps or thickening in the breast or under the arm, nipple sores, nipple discharge, skin of the breast dimpling, and a rash or red swollen breasts.
Pain is rare, so being alert to visual symptoms is vitally important.
In addition, mammographic screening every two years is recommended for women in the 50-74 year age bracket.
Women also need to be aware of the risk factors associated with breast cancer and these include increasing age, family history of breast cancer, having a breast condition, hormonal factors such as child-bearing, and lifestyle factors.
It is important also to be aware of the different types of breast cancers.
According to the Cancer Council, some breast cancers are found when they are still confined to the ducts or lobules of the breast. This is called pre-invasive breast cancer and the most common types are ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS).
Most breast cancers are found when they are invasive which is when the cancer has spread outside the ducts or lobules of the breast into surrounding tissue.
There are several categories of invasive breast cancer.
* early breast cancer – contained in the breast but may have spread to one or more lymph nodes.
* locally advanced breast cancer – may have spread to places near the breast but isn’t found in other areas of the body.
* metastatic breast cancer – the cancer cells spread from the breast to other areas of the body, such as the bones, liver or the lungs. It may also be called advanced breast cancer.
It is important to maintain good overall health and your community pharmacy is a health hub for advice and counselling on how to stay healthy. Your pharmacist can also give advice on medicines you may be taking as part of treatment for cancer.