Taking place annually throughout the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month aims to raise awareness about the disease and raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure.
While the general public are often aware of the conditions much more action needs to be taken to support the public in reducing their risks and support early detection and treatment.
About breast cancer
Breast cancer is the second most common cancer globally, accounting for 1.7 million new diagnoses in 2012, a 20% increase in 2008 figures. Of even greater concern is that breast cancer has become the leading cause of mortality amongst women globally. While breast cancer incidence is higher in high-income countries (HICs) we have seen the fastest rise in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) where survival rates are the lowest.
Yet we have the tools to take action to dramatically reduce breast cancer risks, and as a result the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) amongst others has called for urgent global action to tackle this rapidly rising burden.
Many of the symptoms of breast cancer are invisible and not noticeable without a professional screening like a mammogram or ultrasound. But some symptoms can be caught early just by looking out for certain changes in your breasts and being proactive about your breast health.
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be tender, soft, or rounded. They can even be painful. For this reason, it is important to have any new breast mass, lump, or breast change checked by a health care professional experienced in diagnosing breast diseases.
Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:
- Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no distinct lump is felt)
- Skin irritation or dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple retraction (turning inward)
- Redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
How often should I check my breasts?
It doesn’t matter when you check your breasts, as long as you check them regularly. This could be every month, or every couple of months. You could check while you’re in the bath or shower, after the gym or before bed.
When you get to know your breasts, you might notice they change with age, or at different times of the month. For example, your breasts might feel tender and lumpy around the time of your period. You may also experience normal changes during pregnancy, when your breasts may get bigger and feel tender or sore.