Volume 95, Issue 22

Thursday, October 11, 2001
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Boobs: here, there and everywhere

Does size matter?

The supporting role of bras in history

Getting to know your chest

Getting to know your chest

How best to detect breast cancer

By Lindsay Satterthwaite
Gazette Staff

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and many experts are hopeful women everywhere will use the month to gain some potentially life-saving knowledge.

Breast cancer is a concern for women aged fifty and over, said Nathalie Noel, community outreach consultant for the Canadian Cancer Society. "It is a disease of age," she added.

Just being a woman is considered a risk factor, Noel said. Other factors include being over 50 years of age, prior complications with cancer, a woman's family history, having a child after 30 and obesity after menopause, she stated.

The Canadian Cancer Society offers seven steps to healthy breasts including: not smoking, eating healthy, being active, being sensible in the sun, following screening guidelines, reporting changes in health to a doctor and using caution with hazardous materials.

In addition to these guidelines, Noel recommends women over forty do monthly breast self-exams. "Become familiar and get to know your breasts and what is normal for them," she said.

Currently, there is controversy over what age to commence breast self-exams. Noel explained there is not much benefit to self-exams for younger women and the primary concern is that they might feel something abnormal and become worried prematurely.

Nancy Jilkes, a registered nurse at Western's Student Health Centre, explained breast checkups are not necessary for younger patients, unless the patient is in a high risk category. "Breast exams are not normally performed during a physical exam, unless there is a family history," Jilkes explained.

The likelihood of a young woman getting breast cancer is slim, she added.

At Student Health, breast exams are not routinely performed unless requested. The physicians do ask their patients if they do self-exams and pamphlets are available. "It is encouraged and it is important to get used to doing it because routine is important," she said.

Sylvia Shedden, the provincial administrator for the Ontario Breast Screening Program, explained they provide free breast screenings only for women over fifty. Women under fifty need to be referred by their doctors.

"We recommend women become familiar with their breasts," Shedden said.

Self-exams are not necessarily encouraged to women in their twenties, but as women get older, proper breast self-exams are important, she added.

Shedden recommended all women over fifty get screened every two years, but 10-15 per cent of women considered "high risk" are recalled annually. Only nine per cent of women screened have abnormalities and less than one per cent actually have breast cancer, she said.

"Our screening centres have been around for 11 years because we felt the need to have centres in a [non-]hospital environment. Health is the primary focus," she said.

Screenings at the OBSP includes a high quality mammogram, a breast exam by a nurse and a how-to lesson for a personal breast exam. "We follow the three-pronged approach to breast care," she said. "Early detection is important."

Current statistics from the Canadian Cancer Society estimate 53 women in Canada are diagnosed with breast cancer every day. One in nine women have a chance of developing breast cancer, one in twenty-six have the chance of dying from it and the estimated number of new cases of breast cancer in 2001 is 19,500.

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Copyright The Gazette 2001