Girls Night In - Cancer Council

Breast health

Taking Care of Mum

As a mum we all seem to place ourselves a fair way down the ladder when it comes to looking after our own health. We all seem to worry about every one and every thing before taking any time to care for our own health and well being. However, your health is something that you cannot afford to neglect.

The Cancer Council of Australia has provided some valuable information regarding your gynocological and breast health. Read this important message and then pass your knowledge on to your friends. Together we can spread the word.

Be ‘Body Aware’

More than 15,700 Australian women are diagnosed with breast, cervical, ovarian, vaginal or uterine cancer each year. In New Zealand, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women, with over 2600 women being diagnosed each year (Breast Cancer Foundation Information Centre).

The most important message we can pass on to you and your circle of friends is to become what we call ‘Body Aware’. This means you need to get to know your body and learn what its usual functions are – work out what is normal for you.

If something doesn’t feel right or is different to how you normally feel or function, then you should get it checked out by your doctor. We have listed below some of the more common symptoms that may be a sign of cancer. Please be aware that if you have these symptoms it does not automatically mean that you have cancer but we recommend that you see a doctor to be sure.

You should see a doctor if you notice any of the following breast health concerns?

Breast cancer

  • A lump, lumpiness, or a feeling of thickness, somewhere in your breast
  • Anything coming out of your nipple without squeezing, except breast milk
  • A change in the shape or the appearance of dimples in your breast
  • Pain in a part of your breast
  • A nipple that turns in (unless it has always been turned in)

Gynaecological cancers

  • A change in the pattern of your menstrual bleeding including bleeding between periods, after intercourse or menopause or heavier or longer bleeding
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Excessive tiredness, loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Swelling, discomfort and pain in the abdomen
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as heartburn, nausea and bloating
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation and diarrhoea
  • Itching, burning and soreness of the vulva
  • Any changes to the appearance of the vulva including lumps, swelling, sores, moles or any changes to the skin
  • Burning pain when passing urine

Don’t forget!

You know your body best, if you have concerns about any of the above symptoms please see your doctor. If your doctor doesn’t find anything and you are still concerned you should not be afraid to ask for a referral to a specialist.

Cancer smart recommendations

While there is no way you can guarantee that you won’t get cancer, there are steps you can take to lower your overall risk.

The Cancer Council recommends you:

  • Quit smoking or, better still, never start.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight and be physically active.
  • Enjoy a balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrain or high-fibre foods.
  • Limit or avoid drinking alcohol. The recommendation for women is no more than 1 standard drink per day and try to have at least 1 or 2 alcohol-free days a week.
  • Participate in recommended screening programs.
  • Get to know your body and what is normal for you and act when you notice any changes

Regular checks and screening

Regular breast health checks and screening can help find cancer early when it may be easier to treat. Below are details of the available checks and screening programs for women’s cancers.

Breast cancer

For the early detection of breast cancer it is recommended women:

  • Be ‘Breast Aware’ by familiarising yourself with the normal look and feel of your breasts.
  • See a doctor immediately if you notice any unusual breast changes.
  • If you are aged 45-69, have a mammogram every two years through BreastScreen Aotearoa.

Gynaecological cancers

For the early detection and prevention of cervical cancer it is recommended in New Zealand that all women aged 20 to 70 who have ever been sexually active have a cervical smear test every three years.
Presently, there are no formal screening programs for ovarian, uterine, vaginal or vulvar cancers. The Cancer Council Australia recommends that anyone experiencing any symptoms that do not feel normal visit their doctor for a breast health check up.

In New Zealand the The Cancer Society is the country’s largest source of information about cancer and its effects. They work to raise awareness of women’s cancers and to educate women about how to lower their cancer risk and have a range of information available free at your local Cancer Society office or through the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237). Booklets, Information Sheets and other information resources can also be downloaded directly from their website.

For more information in New Zealand visit these websites:

Cancer Society of New Zealand Cancer Information Helpline 0800 226 227
The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation Freephone 0800 902 732
BreastScreen Aotearoa Freephone 0800 270 200
National Cervical Screening Programme

For more information see Motherhood or Parenting .