(VTV BREAKFAST OCTOBER 1999)
1. What are the facts?
Breast cancer is currently the leading cause of death among women between the ages of 35 and 55. One in nine Canadian women can expect to develop breast cancer during her lifetime and one in twenty-five will die from this disease.
But the good news is that, due to earlier diagnosis, increased awareness and improvements in treatment, mortality rates for breast cancer in Canada have recently begun to decline.
2. Should we worry about the breast lumps and bumps girls in puberty find?
No. It is completely normal for young girls to discover hard bumps or nodes behind their nipples while their breasts are developing. Any soreness is simply growing pain, and it is O.K. for breasts to grow unevenly for a while.
Boys should also know that it is normal for them to develop small breasts during puberty–they will flatten out as their rib cage gets bigger.
3. When should I start doing breast self-examinations and what am I looking for?
Girls should start doing breast self-examinations as soon as they start getting their period, at the same time (one week after each period is recommended) every month. Breasts should be checked for discharge coming from the nipple, puckering, dimpling or lumps. Doing a self-exam in the shower is a good idea because soapy hands glide easily over wet skin, making it easy to checks how the breasts feel.
Don’t forget check under the arms for lumps as well.
4. What about mammograms? When should I start getting them and how often?
A mammogram can detect, but not prevent cancer, but it is the best breast cancer screening method that currently exists.
Recommendations vary, but women between the ages of 40 and 50 should start having a mammogram at least every two years.
5. What if I find a lump?
As terrifying as it can be to discover a lump in one’s breast, it is important to remember that 80-85% of lumps are not cancer, esp. in younger women. A lump that has similar texture to other areas of the breast or gets smaller over time is unlikely to be cancer. But to avoid the risk, make an appointment with your doctor right away.
I have spoken with a number of teenage girls who have found a lump in their breast but were too afraid to tell anyone about it—this makes it extremely important for parents to reassure their daughters (and sons!) that they can and need to talk to them about it.