Signs of Breast Cancer with Emma McKinnell
Know your breasts, monitor them regularly for changes, and if you have any concerns at all get them checked.
That's the key message from PA Hospital (PAH) breast cancer clinical nurse consultant Emma McKinnell (right) who has over two decades of experience in breast cancer oncology. Though time and research have led to improved treatments and increased survival rates, breast cancer is still expected to be diagnosed in more than 20,000 Australians this year making the message of awareness still crucially important.
"For me, it's about encouraging people to think more about breast awareness, rather than just, a lump, and knowing what your breasts are normally like if you look in the mirror, as well as how they feel - is anything different? Does it look different? Is the skin different," Emma said.
"It can be as subtle or as simple as a small indentation on the side of the breast, and not necessarily a specific lump, but can be a number of other changes. And, if you're concerned about it, it doesn't go away, go and get it checked out.
"If you're worried after you have seen your doctor, you can ask for a review with a different GP, or speak to BreastScreen to discuss imaging if you are in your 40's – you may also need a medical review if you have symptoms."
Though age is always a factor in diagnosing breast cancer due to the density of breast tissue, women should still be checking their breasts regularly for any changes and ensure they are attending for routine breast screening from 50 (although you can attend for mammograms at Breast Screen Qld in your 40's).
"Certainly, from 45 onwards, they should be more breast aware but as I say, it can be applied to any age. I do have patients that are younger than 40 who have breast cancer."
Emma said the awareness message should also be heeded by men, as breast cancer is also something, though in relatively small numbers, that can be diagnosed in men.
"I've got a few male patients, with breast cancer, who've had treatment. There can be a stigma about it can't happen to men and so they delay presentation. Numbers are small, and there can be a genetic element to it, but if men notice something different, they need to see their GP."
Emma said increased public awareness campaigns such as the PA Research Foundation's Project Pink campaign have thankfully led to more people surviving post-diagnosis, a positive trend which has also been aided by research.
"We are diagnosing people earlier, with factors such as screening and increased breast awareness improving over the years – also, treatments and the way we manage breast cancer has changed and dependent on type we're able to target very specific things," she said."There are a number of factors, and even in patients with metastatic or secondary disease, treatments have come on amazingly."
Importantly, the sooner a potential cancer is diagnosed and treated, the lower the chances it has of spreading to vital organs.
"If you find something and it's different, go to see somebody and get checked out, although there's a lot that comes along with that decision - fear of what it's going to be, and people will sometimes avoid going, because they are afraid of the worst," Emma said.
"But if we find things early, we can more often than not do something about it."
Donate to breast cancer research here: www.projectpink.org.au/donate