October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is when the media and organisations make a concerted effort to bring attention to research, screening, and education about breast cancer risk factors. This month and its surrounding work are ever-important, especially because whole communities can go unreferenced in these conversations.
While this type of cancer primarily affects people assigned female at birth, that does not make it a “women’s disease”. Intersex, non-binary, genderqueer, and trans people can all be impacted by breast cancer. Everyone should know their personal risk factors and screening options.
Who is at risk?
- People assigned female at birth
- Intersex people who have breast tissue
- Cisgender men (Less than 1 percent of diagnosed breast cancer cases)
- Trans women undergoing hormone treatment
- Trans men who currently have breasts
- Non-binary people who currently have breasts, or are undergoing feminising hormone treatment
- Those with a genetic predisposition
- Those with a family history
- Those with dense or large breasts
Screening dos and don'ts
Do the following:
- Talk to your doctor
Personal risk factors are different for everyone. Your doctor will be able to discuss these matters with you and come up with a screening plan as it applies to your particular situation.
- Ask about screening methods and their accuracy Not every screening option or timeline is right for everyone. Screening is important, but in some cases, these tests can come back with false findings that can complicate your health care. It’s important to know these statistics and which methods will be used for your screening.
Did you know that the NHS runs a breast screening programme in which anyone registered as female at a GP practice will be invited to every 3 years from the age of 50 to 71? If you do not receive an invite but think you should, please reach out to your GP surgery or local breast screening service who will be able to help.
- Pay attention to your body
Checking your breast area regularly is an important part of your routine. Having a sense of how your breast tissue looks and feels is a really helpful way to pick up any changes early. You may notice that this varies across your cycle if you have periods.
If you notice sudden changes in your breast, including your armpits and collarbones (there’s also breast tissue here!), it’s a good idea to reach out to your doctor.
Do not do the following:
- Avoid conversations with your doctor
Discussing breast health can be uncomfortable for anyone. This can be intensified when dealing with matters of dysphoria or gender identity. Before beginning this conversation take the steps you need to in order to support your mental health and wellbeing.
- Ignore symptoms
Take your health seriously and pay attention to how you are feeling. Seeking help with small problems now can prevent them from turning into serious issues later.
- Panic about developing breast cancer
Everyone’s risk is different and treatments are improving rapidly. The best thing to do if you are worried is to seek help and ask your questions to a healthcare professional. You don’t have to do it alone.
Symptoms to look out for
There are some common symptoms associated with breast cancer. If you experience these, reach out to your doctor.
- New lump in the breast or armpit
- Thickening or swelling anywhere on the breasts
- Irritation of breast skin
- Dimpling on the breasts
- Nipple pulling inwards - or any change in the appearance of the nipple which is new for you
- Red/flaky skin on the nipple or breast
- Pain in the nipple area
- Nipple discharge (sometimes bloody)
- Sudden change in the size or shape of breasts
- Pain in any area of the breast
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- Breast Cancer Awareness Month” Nation Breast Cancer Foundation, accessed 27 September 2022
- What is Breast Cancer Screening?” Center for Disease Control, accessed 27 September 2022
- When you’ll be invited”, NHS, accessed 6 October 2022
- Joshua Sterling, Maurice M. Garcia “Cancer screening in the transgender population: a review of current guidelines, best practices, and a proposed care model” National Library of Medicine, accessed 27 September 2022
- About Breast Cancer in Men”. John Hopkins Medicine, accessed 27 September 2022.
- What are the symptoms of breast cancer?”. Center for Disease Control, accessed 27 September 2022
- How should I check my breasts, NHS, accessed 6 October 2022