October is breast cancer awareness month


Breast cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand women. There are over 3000 women (and 20-30 men) diagnosed in New Zealand each year.

Annually there are 600-700 deaths from breast cancer; more than double the annual road toll. In the Waikato region there are over 300 women and two to three men diagnosed each year. That is more than five women diagnosed per week! 2016 saw our highest recorded number of cases – 383 breast cancer cases diagnosed in our region.

Maori women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer and almost double the death rate compared to New Zealand European women. Research work supported by the Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust has shown that half of this difference is due to less screening and larger cancers at diagnosis. The research has also shown that Maori women with cancers detected through breast screening do just as well as non-Maori. The great news is that women with early screen detected cancer have a high chance of cure and 94 percent of these women are alive 10 years after diagnosis.

More and more women than ever before are surviving a diagnosis of breast cancer thanks to early detection (e.g. through the Breast Screen Aotearoa Programme) and more effective, safe and tailored treatments developed through research. Today we can celebrate more than 25,000 New Zealand women who have survived breast cancer.

Ryans Daughter Photography

Research for better outcomes:
It may surprise you to learn that breast cancer is not just one single disease. There are a number of different sub types of breast cancer. Each woman who develops a cancer in her breast has a unique disease which can be identified by its cell make-up, its sensitivity to the female hormone oestrogen, and to the activity of certain genes within the tumour. Such individual characteristics create challenges for researchers in this field to identify safe treatment that will give each woman the best chance of long-term survival and potentially a cure.

It is essential to have evidence based medicine/health care through clinical trials research so we can offer women as individuals the best treatment for their type of breast cancer. Clinical trials research conducted today will lead to better outcomes for women of the future diagnosed with breast cancer.

The Waikato Breast Cancer Research Trust is our local charitable trust which enables local and international clinical trials and the Waikato Breast Cancer Patient Register. This vital register tracks breast cancer rates, treatments and outcomes providing insights for medical research to improve outcomes for everyone, as shown in the work regarding Maori women.

For further information and ways to support research and help Waikato mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, colleagues, neighbours and whanau affected by this disease; please visit www.wbcrt.org.nz

Early detection saves lives:
• A regular screening mammogram is the best method for the early detection of breast cancer in women with no symptoms.
• We recommend women start having annual screening mammograms between 40-49 and then once every two years from 50 years (and up to age 80 – as long as women remain in good health).
• If you are between 45-69 years you can enrol in the free Breast Screen Aotearoa programme by phoning 0800 270 200, or online at www.nsu.govt.nz

Be breast aware:
Changes in the breast to look out for and report to your doctor;
• A new lump or thickening
• Skin dimpling or puckering
• Any change in one nipple, such as discharge that occurs without squeezing or a turned-in nipple
• Or a rash or reddening or scalyness of the nipple

Breast Screen Aotearoa
Breast Screen Aotearoa is New Zealand’s free breast cancer screening programme. It checks women for signs of early breast cancer using mammograms. You can have a free mammogram every two years through Breast Screen Aotearoa. if you are between 45-69 years. Please phone 0800 270 200 to enrol in this programme. You can also enrol for on line at www.nsu.govt.nz

Ryans Daughter Photography

• Can show changes in the breast before anything can be seen or felt. In most case the changes will not be cancer.
• Can detect breast cancer early, which means a very good chance of successful treatment.
• Can detect about 75 percent of unsuspected cancer in women under 50 and 85 percent in women over 50.
• Cannot prevent you getting breast cancer and cannot always prevent death from breast cancer.
• Are safe because only very small amounts of radiation are used in two-yearly screening.

What can you do to reduce your risk?
All women are at risk of breast cancer, and risk increases with age. Understanding breast cancer risks – those you can control and those you can’t – may help you to improve your breast health;
• Regular exercise – at least four hours per week.
• Eating a healthy diet including low fat, and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
• Maintaining a healthy weight, especially after the menopause.
• Keep alcohol intake to less than 10 drinks per week. Ensure you have alcohol free days.
• Breast-feed if possible. Breast-feeding for 12 months or more is associated with a reduction in breast cancer risk.
• Know your family history. Most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history. A small proportion get breast cancer because of a heritable cancer gene mutation. If you have a number of relatives affected by breast cancer on the same side of the family (mother’s or father’s) your risk may be increased. Talk to your doctor about your family history, you may need to start breast surveillance at a younger age.


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