Pink October: breast cancer awareness month

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, with nearly 60,000 new cases diagnosed every year in France. Almost 1 in 9 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. Fortunately, thanks to research, new patient care protocols and doctors’ expertise, over 3 out of 4 breast cancers are cured. This figure also reflects better screening techniques. Every year, October is devoted to the fight against breast cancer: prevention, awareness, information, discussion. Don’t miss this incredible opportunity to find out more about the importance of early detection. Get all the information you need and the right precautions to take throughout Pink October.

The earlier breast cancer is detected, the higher the chances of recovery. That’s why when it comes to screening, doctors and experts strongly encourage women to perform a breast self-exam regularly as of the age of 20, on top of visits to the gynecologist and other specialists. Self-examination is done to detect breast cancers early, as women are likely to notice anything unusual that they can then have checked by their doctor. So it’s important to learn how to perform the exam, step by step, to pick up on any changes in breast tissue.

The first step is a visual inspection. Standing in front of a mirror, carefully examine the appearance of your breasts to notice:

  • Any changes in shape or size
  • The appearance of any palpable lump or bulge
  • Any changes in the nipple, skin retraction or thickening
  • Any redness causing inflammation or visible veins
  • Any discharge from the nipple, not including breast milk if breastfeeding.

In the second step, be careful to perform the palpation on both breasts. Standing in front of a mirror with your arms down at your sides, lift one arm, and using the three fingers of the other hand, touch the breast on the side of the arm that is lifted. Starting from the outer edges of the breast with the pads of your fingers, make small circles all around the breast gradually working inwards towards the nipple. Complete the exam by gently squeezing the nipple to check for any discharge. Repeat the palpation step on the other breast.

If you detect anything unusual, you should know that most lumps are benign. But you should talk about it with your doctor, who will perform additional tests.

It is important to understand that breast self-examination does not replace regular screening by health professionals, which should be performed every year as of age 25, and annual clinical exams and mammograms starting at age 40.

In terms of diagnostics, mammograms are the leading exam for detecting breast conditions. Today, mammograms are used to detect 90% of cancers even before symptoms appear, which considerably improves the chances of being cured. Screening remains the best weapon against cancer. That is why health officials encourage women age 50 and over to have a free mammogram done, on top of their annual exams, every two years as part of an organized screening program.

A mammogram uses imaging, i.e. a chest X-ray, to detect pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions. Front and profile images of each breast aid in studying the mammary gland and detecting any abnormality in the tissue. A breast ultrasound is generally performed as well. These exams enable the radiologist to establish an initial interpretation of the results, and confirm and narrow a diagnosis with additional exams that are prescribed immediately (microbiopsy, fine-needle aspiration, etc.) if a lesion is detected.  The final results are sent within two weeks.

The effectiveness of early cancer screening is widely accepted. In fact, many studies show that the risk of mortality due to breast cancer is 20% to 30% lower in women who have had regular exams.

Topping the list of types of cancer affecting women, breast cancer is often wrongly believed to be a women’s only disease. Men too have a chest, although a different shape, which puts them at risk of developing the disease. It remains a rare phenomenon, but men account for 1% of breast cancer cases. So they should be careful and watch for certain symptoms.

As for women, this type of cancer is increasingly treatable. But due to taboos about the subject for men, it is often detected at a later stage than for women. Screening, along with awareness and dialogue, is crucial to getting the right care as of the early stages. Unlike for women, no organized screening programs exist for men. So it is particularly important to watch for the same signs and abnormalities as in women – such as redness and discharge – and talk to a doctor about it quickly so that a mammogram can be performed.

For men and women alike, with confirmed cases of breast cancer, it is important to talk to your doctor about risk factors, which could make you a candidate for genetic testing.

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