Breast cancer in First Nations women: know your risk factors and how to get screened
Cancer. It’s a scary word these days. But many people wonder, what exactly is cancer?
Cancer happens when healthy cells in your body change over time into cells that grow and multiply uncontrollably. These are cancer cells. There are hundreds of different kinds of cancer and for some, we know what triggers them, but for others, we don’t. Right now we know that one in two people will experience cancer in their lifetime.
Today, I would like to share some information about breast cancer. In Canadian women 1 in 9 will develop breast cancer during her lifetime, making breast cancer the most common cancer for women. Men can also get breast cancer, but it’s not very common (approximately 1% of all breast cancers occur in men).
It’s important for First Nations women to be aware of their breast health because we are often diagnosed with breast cancer at a later stage, when it is harder to treat. Staging of breast cancer (stages 1 through 4) is based on the size of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.
What are some symptoms of breast cancer?
You may notice a hard lump in your breast that doesn’t move and may feel uneven. Other symptoms might include leaking of fluid or blood from your nipple, a painful rash or redness of the breast that does not heal, or the skin of your breast might look like an orange peel.
If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your primary care provider right away (a doctor or nurse) who can examine you and order more tests if needed. What’s also important for you to know is that some breast cancers are preventable and that we can screen for breast cancer before you have symptoms.
How can you reduce your risk of breast cancer?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of developing a disease. Research clearly shows that risk factors are linked to the development of breast cancer. It is estimated that 30% of breast cancers are preventable.
Some breast cancer risk factors are not controllable such as: increasing age, being female, starting to menstruate early, and experiencing menopause at a later age.
But some breast cancer risk factors are within your control such as making healthy lifestyle choices which include:
• avoid smoking
• drink less alcohol
• maintain a healthy body weight
• eat a balanced diet with a variety of vegetables and fruit
• stay physically active (at least 30 minutes of moderately intense activity every day)
How do we find breast cancer early?
Breast screening finds cancer earlier when it’s easier to treat and there are more treatment options. As women get older, their chance of getting breast cancer increases. Women aged 50 – 74 years should get a mammogram (a low dose x-ray of the breast) every 2 years. Breast screening is for healthy women. Don’t wait for symptoms!
In Northwestern Ontario, many women will have their breasts screened on the Screen For Life mobile screening coach. This coach visits 60 regional locations and First Nation communities from April to October to help women get better access to screening. The coach is supported by Cancer Care Ontario and the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre’s Prevention and Screening Services. They send reminders to women when it’s time for their next appointment, notify women and their primary care providers of mammogram results, and help schedule follow up testing if needed. All services are free.
To book a breast screening appointment in Northwestern Ontario, call toll free 1-800-668-9304 or in Thunder Bay call 684-7777. For more information, visit www.tbrhsc.net/screenforlife.
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