For more than 15 years, St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital breast care nurse, Catherine Gillam, has been dedicated to caring for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer, from diagnosis to recovery.
As a specialised Clinical Nurse Consultant in breast care, Catherine’s goal is simple – to make the experience of breast cancer easier for patients.
Because Breast Cancer Awareness Month isn’t just about wearing pink, this month we sat down with Catherine for an important conversation about breast health and screening, and to get the answers to some of her most commonly asked questions.
Q: What age should women start breast screening?
A: For women aged 50 to 74, routine mammogram screening is advised at a minimum every two years, because 75 per cent of all breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50. Women aged 40 to 49 years old with no breast symptoms are encouraged to screen every one to two years. Over 75 years of age, women who have no breast symptoms should discuss whether to have a mammogram with their doctor. Regardless of age, if you have any breast changes or symptoms of a breast lump, you should have a mammogram and ultrasound.
Q: Is a mammogram painful?
A: Everyone has a different pain threshold, but the compression or squeezing involved with a mammogram is often described as uncomfortable but not painful. In most cases, the pressure or squeeze you feel only lasts a few seconds.
Q: What are the risk factors for breast cancer?
A: The biggest risk factors for developing breast cancer are being a woman and getting older. Excess weight gain, inactivity, poor diet and alcohol use can also be risk factors.
Q: How do I find out if I have a genetic link or predisposition to breast cancer?
A: Breast cancer is a common disease in Australian women. By chance, some women will have a relative who has had breast cancer, however less than 5 per cent of all breast cancers are associated with a family history. If you are concerned about your individual risk, speak to your doctor.
Q: Can men get breast cancer?
A: Breast cancer can occur in male breast tissue, although it is uncommon. In men, most breast tissue is located behind the nipple. Women have a lot more breast tissue than men and a much higher rate of breast cancer.
Q: What’s different about the St Andrew’s Breast Care Service?
A: At St Andrew’s, our model of care is designed to support patients at every stage from the point of diagnosis into treatment and recovery. When a patient is diagnosed within our St Andrew’s Breast Care Service, they are provided with education and support from within a tightly knit multidisciplinary team. Our goal is to provide prompt, professional and personalised care.
St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital Breast Care Service is conveniently located in Spring Hill. For more information or to make an appointment for a mammogram, please call us on 07 3834 4488.
Originally published as Breast Health and Screening: FAQs answered in My Village News October 2023.