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Breast cancer hits new high in NZ

The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation Tuesday 25 February 2014, 11:24AM

Media release from Breast Cancer Foundation

For the first time, the number of NZ women diagnosed with breast cancer in one year has topped 3000, according to provisional 2012 figures from the Ministry of Health. Unfortunately, that growth isn't due just to our increasing population - the age-standardised rate of breast cancer per 100,000 women has also grown.

One of the 3003 women diagnosed in 2012 was Nicki Hayles, of Christchurch. The mum of three teenagers was 47 at the time, with no family history of breast cancer, and was enrolled in BreastScreen Aotearoa's free screening mammograms. Between mammograms, Nicki felt some pain in one breast. When it grew worse, and she noticed some redness on her breast, she went to the doctor. Her GP suggested a cyst, but when Nicki called BreastScreen Aotearoa to postpone her regular mammogram because of the pain, an alert nurse followed up and made sure Nicki was referred to the hospital breast clinic. Mammogram and ultrasound revealed a 2cm lump, which turned out to be a grade 3 invasive cancer.

"I didn't realise soreness and redness could mean anything like breast cancer," Nicki says. "And I was really surprised that the cancer had grown that big between mammograms. I'm so grateful to the nurse who rang me."

Nicki's story is a reminder of the need to stay vigilant about your breast health, even when you're having mammograms. Reducing the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer is still an "out there" goal for researchers working to understand risk and prevention - but what we do know today is that detecting breast cancer early saves lives. Of those 3003 women diagnosed in 2012, 12% were under the free screening age of 45, and a quarter were over 69, when free screening ends.  Please, whatever your age, get to know the normal look and feel of your breasts, and report any changes to your doctor.

Possible signs of breast cancer include:
• A new lump or thickening in the breast or armpit area
• A change in breast shape or size
• A pain in the breast that is unusual
• A change in the skin of the breast, areola or nipple, e.g. colour, dimpling, puckering or reddening
• Any change in the nipple, e.g. a turned in nipple or a discharge

if you notice any changes in your breasts, see a doctor (even if you've had a mammogram recently).

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