Breast screening helps to detect cancers early; it does not replace breast awareness and self-examination. Early detection ensures better chances of treatment and survival.
What is Breast cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease in which some of the cells of the breast grow rapidly and abnormally; there are different kinds of breast cancer which vary depending on the type of cells affected.
The first noticeable sign of breast cancer is the appearance of a lump or area of thickened breast tissue.
Breast Self -Examination
Breast self-examination is best done on a monthly basis, preferably after your monthly cycle. It is easier to carry out with soapy hands in front of a mirror. Most breast lumps are not cancerous, but it is always advisable to have them checked by a doctor or breast care nurse.
The mammogram procedure used to screen breasts can identify cancers even when they are too small to see or feel. Gibraltar’s breast screening programme is organised by the GHA radiology department.
Women aged 40 years and above are offered the opportunity to take part in the screening programme. Reminders are sent every two years until they reach the age of 70. Women who are 71 years or over can request further screening through their GP or by directly contacting the screening unit.
Family history clinics are available and you may be eligible for screening outside the 40-70 year window if you have a higher risk of breast cancer. You can discuss this with your GP or Nurse Practitioner.
Your Screening Visit
Report to the radiology department and wait to be called in for your mammogram. Your radiographer will explain the procedure after taking you medical history. The entire procedure takes approximately 30 minutes; and you can expect to get your results within 3-4 weeks.
If you notice any unusual changes to your breasts or any lumps; or if you have any queries at all, do not wait to be screened; seek advice from your GP or Nurse Practitioner.
Referrals to the Breast Clinic
An urgent referral to the Breast Care clinic from your GP or Nurse Practitioner will result in you being given an appointment within 2 weeks.
At this appointment , you will have a triple assessment that includes:
- a clinical examination of both breasts by a doctor or nurse
- imaging of both breasts
- a biopsy, if needed
Reducing your risk
At present, there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of developing breast cancer; but there are many ways to significantly reduce your risk:
- Embrace a healthy lifestyle- make more time to exercise, maintain a healthy weight, eat more of fresh foods and less of processed ones (particularly processed meats)
- Avoid smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke
- Limit alcohol intake (not more than 14 units per week)
- Limit additional use of hormones. Discuss the use of HRT and oral contraceptives (containing synthetic oestrogen and progestin) with your GP
- breastfeeding plays a role in reducing risk, advice is to at least 1 year of age; it is also the best option for your baby.
Certain risk factors you cannot change, but are good to note if you are querying breast changes, include increasing age, family history of cancer, previous health treatments involving radiation therapy, and high density of breast tissue.
Remember, if you notice any changes to your breasts, any lumps you are not sure about, or have any queries at all do not wait to be screened, go directly to your GP or nurse practitioner. Though less common, men can also suffer from breast cancer, so it is necessary to be aware of what is “normal” for you and act upon any unexpected changes.
For more information see BreastCancerCare.org.uk or download an informative leaflet directly below: