Women lack knowlege about breast cancer
One in three Australian women mistakenly believe drinking alcohol poses no risk for developing breast cancer, a survey has found. National Breast Cancer Centre director Helen Zorbas said the study of 3000 women aged 30 to 69 had uncovered some "very disturbing" findings about the lack of knowledge among some about the disease.
Almost a quarter of those surveyed believed wrongly that being overweight posed no risk for developing the cancer and only half knew a woman's risk increased as she aged.
"What is concerning is that there's some basic facts that we probably all presumed that women do know and in fact, an alarming number don't know some of this information," Dr Zorbas said in an interview. "It's potentially putting lives at risk."
The phone survey of women in both rural and metropolitan Australia was conducted in late 2003. More than one in three who had noticed a change in the look or feel of their breast had waited more than one month before seeking medical advice. Another 23 per cent who had found changes did not see a doctor at all.
"We know that more than 50 per cent of breast cancers are found as a change in the breast so it's most important that women do know what changes to look out for," Dr Zorbas said. The most usually detected symptom of breast cancer is a lump in the breast.
Other symptoms can include nipple discharge, changes in the size or shape of the breast or nipple, changes in the skin of the breast such as puckering, redness or dimpling and unusual pains that fail to go away. About 90 per cent of women whose cancer is diagnosed before it has spread outside the breast will be alive five years later.
However, if the cancer is not detected early and has already spread to other parts of the body before diagnosis, only about 20 per cent of women will survive five years. Studies have shown having more than two standard drinks a day increases a woman's chances of developing breast cancer, the risk mounting with each additional drink.
And being overweight, particularly after menopause, also raises a woman's chances of developing the cancer. Despite the experiences of singers Kylie Minogue and Anastacia, who were diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 40, older women are more likely to get the disease. "The evidence is that the benefit of mammogram screening is greatest for women aged 50 to 69," Dr Zorbas said.
Free breast screening is available in Australia for all women over 40.
Next month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.