OCTOBER is Australia’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which provides an opportunity for us all to focus on breast cancer and its impact on those affected by the disease in our community.
Breast cancer remains the most common cancer among Australian women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).
Survival rates continue to improve in Australia with 91 out of every 100 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer now surviving five or more years beyond diagnosis.
The advice is to take the time this month to find out what you need to know about breast awareness and share this important information with your family, friends and colleagues.
Finding breast cancer early provides the best chance of surviving the disease and that’s the message from Mildura’s McGrath Foundation Breast Care Nurse, Louise James, who is employed at the Mildura Base Public Hospital.
“Early detection in younger women is very important and I urge women under the age of 40 to check themselves regularly, particularly if there is a history of cancer in their family − it does affect younger women,” she said.
Louise referenced a case of a woman who had just turned 40 and her mother had breast cancer and so she advised her to undertake a breast screen.
“She did that and rang me about three weeks later and said: “You’ve saved my life. I have breast cancer in both breasts.”
Louise said that she would see more than 60 patients with breast cancer in Mildura each year, but the good news is that the survival rate in Australia is high.
“We are up to 91 per cent now and the reason for that, is the breast awareness information, which encourages early detection through self-examination and having a breast screen because it is very treatable in the early stages,” she said.
“At the foundation our motto is: ‘If you grow them, you’ve got to know them’.
“When a diagnosis of breast cancer is made, it will usually follow a woman noticing that something has changed in her breast.
“If a woman self-detects a lump they should go to the GP and then their doctor will then refer that patient to me. I see patients at both the private and public hospitals as well as community services.
“At that point, we will have them undergo the proper test and if a breast cancer diagnosis is revealed, I will then discuss their treatment options with them. This may include surgery, which can be carried out in Mildura, or some patients may prefer to go outside Mildura for that. And whether they are a public or private patient, I can facilitate that for them.
“Most breast cancers are surgically removed and that is usually followed up with ‘mop-up’ treatment, which is chemotherapy, which gives the patient the reassurance that the cancer won’t reoccur or spread.
The ‘Weekly visited the Mildura Base Public Hospital’s Oncology unit this week and was privileged to speak to Kerri Ball, a breast cancer patient who was receiving her final course of chemotherapy, following 12 weeks of treatment.
“It’s my last treatment today and I’m going to miss these guys that have just been wonderful in the way they have treated and cared for me,” Kerri said. “The team here is amazing … they really know their stuff.
“My treatment has gone well and I’ll be off to Melbourne soon to have my radiation after this.”
Kerri said that being able to have radiation treatment in Mildura soon will be a great thing.
“It will be fantastic for everyone, because the travelling is quite tiring and being away form home and on your own,” she said.
“Whereas, if we could have the treatment in Mildura, I would have my family around me. But I’m not complaining – I’m a survivor!”
Patients undergoing chemotherapy these days have the option to wear a ‘scalp cooler’ during the treatment, which is very effective in preventing hair loss often associated with cancer treatments and has worked well for Kerri, who you wouldn’t know had been undergoing chemo.
The McGrath Foundation recommends the ‘look, learn and feel’ approach to self-examination and you can find the information for this much more about breast cancer by visiting the McGrath Foundation website: www.mcgrathfoundation.com.au.
ABOVE: McGrath Foundation Breast Care Nurse Louise James, left, with patient Kerri Ball and Chemotherapy Day Services Nurse unit manager, Angela Whittingham at MBPH.