It is a widely held belief that breast cancer only occurs in older women, however, this is a dangerous and wrong idea. While it is true that majority of all breast cancer occurs in women over 50 (75%), this does not mean that younger women are exempt. In fact, breast cancer in younger women can be more aggressive.
Just because the incidence of breast cancer increases as you age, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t educate ourselves on self-checks from our 20s.
In order to educate ourselves, our friends and family, Breast Cancer Foundation New Zealand, has shared some suggestions of what you should be doing at each age. The most important thing to remember is that we are all so unique and individual, and our lifestyles, family history and so many other things can impact our chances of getting breast cancer, and if we are ever concerned we should speak to a specialist.
So, what should we be doing at each age?
In your early 20s you need to become breast aware. Know how your breasts feel and perform self-checks once a month, roughly 10 days after your period finishes when tenderness or swelling has settled.
If your mother had breast cancer or ovarian cancer before the age of 50, it is important you get screened annually from the age of 30. If you don’t have this family history, you should continue to be vigilant with self-checks.
This is the age your chances of breast cancer increases, and it also tends to grow quickly in this age range. While testing isn’t free until you are 45, the BCFNZ recommends you start getting tested around 40. Whether you are getting mammograms or not, you should continue to self-check.
50s & 60s
Keeping up-to-date with your mammograms is important in this age range. You should, however, still perform monthly self-checks and talk to your doctor if you notice any differences.
70s & over
Free mammogram services stop at 69, however, your chance of getting breast cancer at 70 is higher than it is at 50. Therefore, you should continue to self-check and continue to get mammograms, if this is a possibility. The BCFNZ is petitioning to raise the free screening age to 74.