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Breast Cancer Symptoms and Early Signs Guide | nib

30 May 2024

Breast Cancer Symptoms

Breast Cancer: Checks, Symptoms, Risks, and Treatments

What you need to know about breast cancer checks

Today, nine New Zealand women, on average, will receive news that they have breast cancer. It’s the most common cancer for Kiwi women, affecting one in nine women, and is developed when abnormal breast cells grow in an uncontrolled way, usually forming a tumour.

While women over 50 face the highest risk, younger women, and even men, can still develop breast cancer. Statistics from nib’s 2024 Health Check research found that even for Kiwis eligible for free breast cancer screenings, 28% are behind on their screening or have never been screened.

People who detect their breast cancer through a screening mammogram have a 95% chance of surviving for 10 years or more, so it’s something everyone should proactively check for, regardless of age or gender.

How to perform a self breast examination

The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better. It means treatment can start sooner, which may increase the chances of success. That’s why regular self-exams matter. Any changes in the breast could be signs that need further investigation.

Performing a check takes four simple steps:

  1. Examine your breasts in front of a mirror with your hands on your hips and note your breasts size, shape and colour. Look for any changes including visible distortion, redness, rashes, swelling, dimpling or bulging of the skin or a nipple that has changed position or is inverted. Also look for any fluid coming from your nipples, such as blood or watery fluid.

  2. Raise your arms and check again for the same indicators mentioned above.

  3. Lie down to feel for any changes. Using a firm touch, feel your breasts for any lumps from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen. Move your hands across your entire breast, covering small areas at a time using a circular motion.

  4. Finally, feel your breasts while standing or sitting. A good place to do this is in the shower with some soap.

Do this regularly and pay attention to any changes over time. If you have any concerns, arrange to see your doctor as soon as possible.

What to do if you feel a possible breast cancer lump

Finding a lump may not be cause for panic. Due to normal hormonal changes, non-cancerous lumps can also appear in breasts. But a doctor’s appointment is a sensible next step, especially if the change in the breast is accompanied by pain, swelling, redness or fluid discharge and has been there for more than a month.

Staying up to date with mammogram screenings

For women aged 45-69 years, it’s important to be proactive with breast cancer checks by getting a regular free mammogram every 2 years. Find more information or book a mammogram here: BreastScreen Aotearoa.

There may also be other publicly funded options available for you if you are not eligible for the free 2-yearly mammograms. You can ask your GP about these the next time you see them.

If you’re heading to the GP for a check-up, it could be a good opportunity to find out what other screenings you might be due for. To find out more about health checks and how to stay on top of them, nib has developed a helpful resource to make health check information simple.

Download nib’s Warrant of Wellness here:

Help reduce the risk

Exploring the causes of breast cancer reveals no definitive way to prevent it, but the Breast Cancer Foundation NZ has some suggestions that can help lower your risk. Maintaining a healthy weight after menopause, exercising, limiting alcohol intake, breastfeeding and avoiding smoking have all been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Anyone with a family history of breast cancer should be encouraged to talk to their doctor about suitable risk reduction measures. These can include genetic testing, taking certain medicines, undergoing a preventative mastectomy, or having regular mammograms to monitor breast health.

Being diagnosed with any type of breast cancer can be a frightening and overwhelming experience for some. For eligible nib members, our Cancer Care programme offers support and guidance for members and their carers when they’re going through treatments for cancer. A dedicated wellness coach works with them one-on-one to support their health and wellbeing during treatment and recovery.

nib health insurance also offers access to private healthcare for diagnostics, specialists and treatment. For a personalised quote, visit the nib Private Hospital health insurance page here.