AWARENESS: Sharon Holmes, of Lismore, believes she would not be alive to- day if not for the early diagnosis of breast cancer.
AWARENESS: Sharon Holmes, of Lismore, believes she would not be alive to- day if not for the early diagnosis of breast cancer.

Women at risk from ignorance of cancer

By SAMANTHA TURNBULL and AAP sturnbull@northernstar.com.au

AFTER battling breast cancer for three decades, Sharon Holmes is astounded many women are still ignorant about the disease.

The Lismore woman said she was floored by the results of a National Breast Cancer Centre survey released yesterday.

The survey showed one in three Australian women mistakenly believed drinking alcohol posed no risk to developing breast cancer.

The study of 3000 women, aged 30 to 69, also showed a quarter believed wrongly that being overweight posed no risk for developing the cancer and only half knew a woman's risk increased as she aged.

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.

"It amazes me considering the amount of advertising that's out there and things like breast cancer month and pink ribbon day," Sharon said.

"For women who don't think it will happen to them ? it can and it probably will if you don't take care of yourself."

Sharon, 62, has endured five lumps being removed from her breasts as well as eventually having both her breasts removed and reconstructed.

The first lump she detected was when she was only 31.

"I was a registered nurse so I was little more aware of what a lump meant than the general public was," she said.

"I had no family history. I was a typical teenager and smoke and drank but nothing more than average.

"It's the most frightening thing that can happen but I had wonderful support from my surgeon, my husband and my family. Only now I realise how lucky I am to be here."

National Breast Cancer Centre director Helen Zorbas said she was most concerned about the basic facts many women did not know.

"It's potentially putting lives at risk," she said.

"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."

The most commonly 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.

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.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.



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