Sometimes when one of my children moans about a real or imagined injustice, I tell them that ‘life is not fair’, which is true. Life is not fair.
I went to a talk by cancer surgeons, radiographers, and oncologists recently. It was to give an update on cancer research and practices for breast cancer patients, their loved ones, and nurses. It was very interesting. The section that I found most challenging was one about younger (pre-menopausal) breast cancer patients. That’s because I am one.
They did a survery of the room for those who are patients or survivors. Zero percent of us were diagnosed in our 20s. 16% in our 30s, and 70% in our 40s. That begs the question as to why normal mammogram screening starts at age 50? But that’s another topic entirely. By the way, if your Mum had breast cancer, you should be offered regular mammograms from your mid-30s, so ask your GP about that if you are concerned.
It did highlight to me what a minority I am in. I hadn’t really thought about that before. The fact is, that most women diagnosed with BC are over 50. But that doesn’t mean that younger women are safe, obviously. I have had a look at Cancer Research UK’s website and there are some risk factors that most people probably aren’t aware of.
You are at higher risk if you:
Have a close family member who had bc, smoke, drink alcohol, are overweight, eat a fatty diet, are tall, are on HRT, take oral contraceptives, started your periods earlier than average (12-13 years old), do shift-work, haven’t given birth and so on.
You are at lower risk if you:
Breastfed your child for more than 1 year. Do exercise.
This list makes me want to laugh. I am in many ways, at one of the lowest risks! But I still got it. Haha. As I say, life’s not fair.
I breastfed my daughter for 22 months, but was diagnosed with bc while breastfeeding. So don’t assume that it will definitely protect you. And don’t assume that if you do find a lump, that it’s just a blocked milk duct. I was sure that mine was, but still went to the GP, just to be safe. And I’m very glad that I did. Younger women often have faster-growing and more aggressive cancers. Which means that the longer you leave it to see a doctor, the more likey that the cancer is to spread beyond your lymph nodes. And if that happens, it’s a case of making the most of the time that you have left. Sorry to be so blunt, but people need to not bury their heads in the sand about this.
Also, over 200 men are diagnosed with bc in the UK every year, so men check your breasts too! And it’s not always lumps. Sometimes it’s a change in colour, or something just looks different. Get it checked out.
But the good news is that 9/10 breast (and armpit) lumps are not cancer; and even if you do have cancer, you will probably live. And new treatments are being developed all the time: for most people, it is a managable condition that they will get better from.