GP Dr Nguyen is a breast surgery assistant and coordinator of the Breast Cancer Survivorship Program at Specialist Breast Cancer Surgery (breastcancer specialist.com.au) in Melbourne. This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she wants us to get curious about our breast health.
“My interest in breast disease stems from the fact that, as a GP, once I suspected or confirmed a patient’s diagnosis of breast cancer, I had very little understanding of the journey they’d go through. I’d see them at the other end once treatment was completed, but many women have ongoing issues, such as effects from surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and endocrine therapy. So it was really important for me to have a better understanding of their journey and what they’d be going through, so I could support them.
“With the Breast Cancer Survivorship Program, I usually see a patient about six to 12 months after their initial treatment. I do [things like] a clinical examination to check for recurrence of their cancer, as well as checking for any ongoing physical or psychosocial issues. I work closely alongside the breast care nurses who help to coordinate any needs the patient has. That might include referrals to physiotherapists, psychologists, pain specialists and other health professionals, or helping women who need their bras fitted again.
“It’s important to be breast aware and we encourage women to check their breasts once a month, with the best time being just after a period. If you’re not menstruating, try picking the first or last day of the month as a trigger to remind you to do it.
You’re looking for anything that feels new or different to the rest of the breast tissue, and not normal for you. Some people find checking easier in the shower; it’s about incorporating it into your routine. Seek medical advice if you’re worried – early detection really is key. Most lumps or bumps turn out not to be cancer, so it’s much less stressful if you have this confirmed sooner.”