The two main female specific cancers are breast and cervical cancer and this section will discuss both briefly. However, if you are concerned about either of these cancers you should consult your doctor or research information on a cancer specific website or call one of the many cancer based helplines.
Breast cancer is a cancer which can affect all women. If left untreated breast cancer can be life threatening, therefore it is important to perform regular self examinations.
Why it is important to check your breasts?
It is important to regularly examine your breasts so that you know what is normal for you and therefore, if there is a change you will become aware of it. Generally, cancers which are discovered early can be diagnosed and treated with greater success rates.
How often should you check your breasts?
Once a month is a good routine for checking your breasts, a good time to do this is during a warm bath or shower and in front of a mirror.
How to perform a breast self examine
If you have never performed a breast self examination, it is important to know that you must perform all parts of the examination gently, as otherwise you may cause yourself pain and/or discomfort!
There are two parts to a breast check, initially stand in front of a mirror leaning slightly forward and carry out a visual examination of your breasts and the surrounding area. If you are in the habit of performing regular visual checks then you will know what is normal for you and therefore be more likely to notice any changes.
- Changes in the size or shape
- Changes in the direction, shape or an unusual discharge from the nipple
- Changes on or around the nipple such as rash, flaky or crusted skin
- Dimpling, puckering or redness of the skin
The second part of the breast self examine is to feel for changes, you may find a good time to do this part of the self examine is whilst sitting in a warm bath or in the shower.
- Swelling in your armpit or around your collarbone
- A lump of any size or thickening of the skin in your breast
- Constant pain in one part of your breast or armpit
The video below shows you visually how to perform a breast self examine and is taken from The Family GP website and features Dr. Chris Steele.
Approximately 200 women per year in Ireland are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Although this number may seem low, cervical cancer remains the second most common female cancer in women under 35 years of age, after breast cancer.
The outlook for early diagnosis and successful treatment of early-stage cancer which is confined to the cervix can usually be successfully treated through surgery and/or radiotherapy.
Over 99% of all cases of cervical cancers are linked to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There are many different strains of HPV, some of which are a higher risk than others. There is now a HPV vaccine available, consult your doctor for more information on suitability and availability.
Unlike breast cancer, there is no self examination for cervical cancer but it is important to go for regular smear tests at your doctor or local clinic. This test is available free of charge under the CervicalCheck programme and should ensure that cervical cancer will be diagnosed at the earliest possible stage, if present.
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding – such as between periods and/or after vaginal intercourse
- Smelly vaginal discharge
- Discomfort when having sex
It should be stressed that having the above symptoms does not mean you have cervical cancer, these symptoms are common to many other conditions and if you are in any way concerned you should consult your doctor.
Ireland has a cervical screening service, details of which can be found on the Cervical Check website.