In Switzerland 17 women die because of breast cancer every day, which makes 6 000 every year. Almost half of them (40 %) are young women and breast cancer is still no. 1 in death causes among women between 40 and 50 years. In Geneva, 460 women are diagnosed every year and similar results come from other roman cantons. Although the numbers seem terrifying, the treatment of this illness has developed rapidly in recent years and a lot of patients can be cured successfully, if the symptoms are revealed in time.
The symptoms can vary, but the first noticeable thing is usually a lump or an area of thickened breast tissue. But don’t be scared if you find a lump by touch. Most of them are not cancerous, but it’s necessary to be checked by a doctor. You should also see your GP if you notice the following symptoms:
- a change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
- a discharge from nipples, which may contain blood
- a lump or swelling in your armpits
- a dimpling on the skin of your breasts
- a sunken nipple or a rush around it
It’s very important to emphasize that there’s a good chance of recovery, if the cancer is detected at an early stage. That’s why women should check their breasts regularly for any changes. Among the factors increasing the risk of breast cancer is usually the age over 60, a family history of breast cancer or a previous diagnosis of it, previous benign breast lump and being overweight or obese.
As the exact causes of breast cancer are not fully understood, there is no certain way how to prevent it, except general advices such as maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercising and avoiding alcohol, especially through menopause. It’s been suggested that regular exercise can reduce your risk of breast cancer by almost as much as a third. And it´s not only about women – in Switzerland, there are 50 men diagnosed with breast cancer every year.
Diagnosing and treatment
After being examined by your GP, you may be referred to a specialist clinic. You will probably be invited to have a mammogram, which is an X-ray of your breasts, and you may also need an ultrasound scan, if they need to know whether the lump is solid or contains liquid. Needle aspiration may be used to test a sample of your breast cells, the same is for biopsy. Biopsies can be taken in different ways depending on your condition, the most common is a needle biopsy.
When breast cancer is diagnosed, the doctors will give it a stage depending on the size and how far it has spread. Breast cancer is often divided into non-invasive and invasive types, where the cancer cells have spread into the surrounding breast tissue. The treatment is usually a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and it’s individual.
Living with breast cancer
Being diagnosed with breast cancer deeply affects your daily and family life. Coping with the diagnosis varies from person to person and it’s very important to have a supportive network like family, friends or a specialized organization like lamainrose or breastcancer.org. Many women have a surgery as a part of the treatment and it´s also very common to lose interest in sex. Breast cancer can change the way you think of your body and dealing with both physical and psychological results of the treatment are important and difficult parts of the recovery process.
The best way to precede the diagnosis is regular breast self-exam. Check how to do it properly and make it your regular routine. And what about starting right in October? It has been designated as the Pink Month to raise awareness on breast cancer worldwide. It´s an annual international campaign led by thousands of organizations. There are plenty of ways how to get involved and support education, charity, research and survivors, including a wide range of activities such as runs, marches, lectures and meetings. Or you can simply join by wearing pink and taking care about your breasts.