Embarrassing Bodies Down Under

Breast Cancer: Myths vs Facts

Breast Cancer is the most common cancer faced by women in Australia. Find out more from Dr Ginni Mansberg from Embarrassing Bodies Down Under.

Breast cancer. So many of my patients are absolutely terrified of developing it for really good reason. Well let's face it, it is the most common cancer faced by women in Australia. We have 40 women diagnosed with it every single day. One in eight of us can expect to develop breast cancer in our lifetime, that is a huge number. So what do you need to know? Let's get the facts.

A lot of my patients want to know how they can detect breast cancer early and that’s important because the earlier we find it, the smaller the cancer, the better the prognosis, so it does make sense. These days, we just advocate being what we call breast aware. And that means being really in touch with what your breasts feel like so if there's a change you can pick it up pretty quickly.

What sort of changes are we talking about? Number one the skin. Is there any change to the skin. Dimpling, change in colour. Your doctor wants to know about it. Number two, what about the nipple. If there's any discharge, the nipple used to pop out and now it's popping in or vice versa, we need to know about it, you need to get it checked out. And the last one is lumps. Any lumps that you haven't felt before need to be examined professionally. It's all good and well for you to reassure yourself that it's probably fine but I'm telling you as a doctor often I can't tell whether it's fine or not until we've done some further studies. Ultrasound, mammogram, even sometimes as biopsy is what is required to tell me that your breast lump is benign.

Breasts can change shape and size throughout the cycle particularly if you're retaining fluid, if you're one of those real fluid retention kind of women, you can grow an entire bra size just before your period. So that's normal. If the same sort of thing is happening every single month, there's nothing to worry about but if something starts to happen that hasn't been there before, that's a change and your doctor wants to know about it.

Reduce the amount of alcohol that you drink so that you're not having even one standard drink a night. Just you know, have a couple of nights off a week. The other one is if you are overweight, lose weight. Get into the healthy weight range, that'll prevent a whole heap of cancer. They're the sorts of steps that we can take to make a huge difference to your health and well being in general but specifically around breast cancer.

There are so many myths around breast cancer. One of the more dangerous ones is that men don't get breast cancer so while it's rare, I mean it's only one percent of all breast cancers are in men and it's only 113 in Australia that are diagnosed with it each year, but that is still a real number and for any man who has breast cancer it can be so devastating because that myth has made him feel that he's some sort of freak. He's not a freak but it's just incredibly bad luck but it certainly does happen you don't have to be a woman to get breast cancer.

Another one of the myths that drives me absolutely nuts is the email that I get probably about once or twice a month is to tell me not to use underarm deodorant because that is going to give me breast cancer, because apparently it blocks ducts which then carry cancer through to the breast. That is so bizarre it doesn't even make sense on a theoretical level. It definitely does not happen, and if anybody is putting up with stinky armpits because they think they can prevent breast cancer, forget it, go back to using deodorant, it's fine.

The bottom line is if there's any change. If there's anything that you are at all worried about, you need to see your doctor. No lump is too small for us to look at. No question is too stupid for us to answer. It is so important for your peace of mind that you get your breasts sorted if you see any change whatsoever.

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