Be breast aware

OCTOBER is nationally recognised as breast cancer awareness month, a time to reflect on the most common cancer affecting women in Australia.

While the month is an opportunity to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer, including risk factors and incidence rates, it is also a time to recognise the valuable role breast care nurses play in the community.

Funded by the McGrath Foundation, breast care nurses provide essential physical and emotional support free of charge to anyone experiencing breast cancer and their families from diagnosis and throughout treatment.

There are 135 McGrath breast care nurses in Australia and Swan Hill is home to one of them.

"One in seven women are now diagnosed with breast cancer," Swan Hill District Health breast care nurse Leanne Bibby said.

"It's so common amongst women in our communities and it's our role to support those women in both community settings and in their homes."

Ms Bibby said there are certain factors that increase the risk of breast cancer yet women and men are susceptible at any age.

"When we talk about breast cancer, we talk many different age groups," Ms Bibby said.

"The risk factors include being female, getting older, family history, smoking, alcohol and being overweight.

"But it can affect anyone which is why we get out in the community and talk about the importance of breast awareness and getting the narrative out there that a normal part of being a woman is being breast aware."

Women are encouraged to regularly check their breasts and look for anything that "changes from the normal".

"Look for a new lump or lumpiness, change in size or shape of the breast, changes to the nipple new pain that doesn't go away," Ms Bibby said.

"It's important to check as often as you can and incorporate it as part of your routine."

Ms Bibby also advised women to make the most of free breast screening services available from the age of 40.

"We encourage all women to get tested every two years," she said.

"If breast cancer is suspected, the next step is to seek out further testing and analysis through a referral from a GP."

Ms Bibby encouraged anyone in need of further information or if already diagnosed, to get in touch locally.

"In our local area, a lot of treatment is sort outside of Swan Hill, meaning women and their families invariably travel," the breast care nurse said.

"My role is to act as a local resource to help co-ordinate referral pathways, stream-line treatment and answer questions to put it all together.

"I also sort out the jargon to try and make it easier to understand and take away the stress of the unknown."

Ms Bibby said breast care nurses also play the vital role of connecting women to local services.

"Breast cancer often comes at a shock to the family because in a lot of cases, the woman might present without any signs and symptoms," she said.

"Helping women through that time and their families is very important.

"It's a multidisciplinary approach and a big team effort.

"While we don't necessarily provide the treatment, we're here to help through each stage of the treatment pathway."

For further breast care awareness information contact Leanne on 5033 9202, 0408 013 386 or drop into Health Promotion 60 McRae Street. No referral is necessary.