Breast cancer: the facts
Written by Dr Penny Adams   

As both women, and mothers, it’s important for us to be aware of the facts regarding breast cancer.

I have been a GP for 17 years and had many patients with breast cancer, but to date, I have never had a patient actually die from her disease.

Sadly, though, many women do still die from breast cancer – 2,600 per year in Australia.

Because of the advances and rapidly evolving new treatments for breast cancer, we are changing our attitude to this disease so that in many cases we are looking at breast cancer as something you live with rather than die from.

1. There are 350,000 consultations to GPs per year relating to breast problems – the vast majority of these relate to benign breast disease.

2. There are 10,000 new cases of breast cancer per year in Australia

3. A woman’s lifetime risk of dying of breast cancer is 1 in 12

4. Routine breast cancer screening via mammography has been shown to reduce death from breast cancer by up to 30 percent. If you are 40 years or over, free mammography screening is available every two years through Breast Screen Australia . For bookings, call 132050. Those women with a strong family history of breast cancer should consult their doctor about earlier screening.

5. Genetic screening is available for those women with a strong family history of breast cancer ie, 2 or more 1st degree relatives. About 10 percent of breast cancers occur in women with a family history of it.

6. All women should be instructed in and perform regular breast self examination. The best time to examine your breasts is after your periods. If you find a lump, always get it checked by your doctor – 99 percent of lumps found are benign.

7. There are a variety of treatments for breast cancer – mastectomy is not always necessary. Breast reconstruction surgery is available for women who require mastectomies – either at the time of mastectomy or afterwards.

Information from the National Breast Cancer Centre (02) 9334 1713 and the Breast Cancer Foundation, (02) 9235 3444.