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OUR HEALTH expert.

Byline: Dr JOANNA LONGSTAFFE

Clinical director of the Independent General Practice answers your Q After my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, I have become more aware of checking my own breasts on a regular basis. I am aware of how important it is to be aware of any changes; I would just like to ensure I am examining them in the correct way.

A It is good to be aware of the dangers of breast cancer and checking your breasts on a regular basis is a great way to remain vigilant.

Regularly examining your own breasts will allow you to become familiar with how they normally look and feel, this way if there are any changes you will be more aware of them. It is recommended that women perform a self-examination at least once a month.

Although a breast lump is one of the first signs of breast cancer, many women will have lumps in the area, and nine times out of 10 these will be benign. Benign lumps can be caused by breast cell changes, cysts or Fibroadenoma. That being said, any abnormal changes should be checked by a GP as soon as possible.

The best time to perform a breast examination is a few days to a week after your period, when breasts are usually less tender or swollen. It is important to use your eyes as well as your hands when examining your breasts.

By standing in front of a mirror it is easier to assess the appearance of the breasts and detect any obvious visible changes. It is advised that women should raise their arms above their head to clearly inspect the area.

When physically examining your breasts, it is best to use the flat of your hand in a circular motion to feel for any lumps. To be thorough it is best to examine the whole of the area including your collarbone and armpit.

Look out for the following when undertaking a breast examination: a lump or thickening in an area of the breast, dimpling of the skin, a change in the shape of your breast or nipple, an inverted nipple, discharge from the nipple area, a rash on the nipple or surrounding area and a lump in your armpit.

As I mentioned, breast self-examination should be performed once a month. Women aged between 50 and 70 are advised to have breast cancer screening every three years, and this involves a mammogram to detect abnormalities.

The cause of breast cancer is not fully understood, however, a number of factors have been linked to the disease. Age plays a part and the risk of developing the disease increases as we get older - eight out of 10 cases of breast cancer occur in women over 50 - but young women still need to be vigilant and the younger you start to become familiar with the shape and feel of your breasts, the more experienced you'll become at spotting any changes.

Another factor linked to breast cancer is family history - those whose close relatives have suffered from the disease have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

In particular genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 can increase your risk of developing the disease. However, most cases of cancer are not hereditary.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK and it is estimated that around 48,000 women are diagnosed with the disease every year but huge advances are being made in the detection and treatment of breast cancer and survival rates are improving all the time. It's also important to remember that breast cancer can affect men too.

Remaining aware of what is normal for you is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself.
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 7, 2012
Words:627
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