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Oprah Winfrey discusses breast cancer.

Oprah Winfrey discusses breast cancer.

Statement from The NZ Breast Cancer Foundation follows:

The Oprah Winfrey Show will screen two programmes, the first on Friday February 14 (TV3, 2pm), and the second on Friday, February 21, covering important aspects of breast cancer.

The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation endorses the messages presented on the shows and believes them to be extremely useful forums for discussion for women.

In particular, The Foundation would like to highlight its position on the following important points that the shows will address:

* Self-examination

Self-examinations should still be performed in the context of breast awareness.

A US study recently stated that self-examination was not advised and this meant many women stopped examining their breasts and it is likely they missed picking up their lumps.

The Foundation refutes this claim and states that women should continue checking their breasts as and when they remember. It is best to perform self-examination in the shower with soap. Self-examination does not do any harm. The majority of breast cancers in New Zealand are still found by the women themselves or their partners.

Breast self-examination is important in that it helps you to be aware of your breast health, but it is also very important that it is done in conjunction with regular medical checks and age-appropriate mammograms.

* Mammography

A mammogram, which is an x-ray of the breast, can pick up cancers when they are very small and before they can be felt by hand. If a cancer is detected when it is less than 1cm in size, there is a 90 percent chance of being alive 10 years later. On the other hand, waiting until the lump can be felt means the cancer is likely to be at least 2cm in size. This means there is a greater risk the cancer may have spread beyond the breast.

Mammography is not infallible, but it is still the best test available to find a tumour when it is still very small. The Foundation encourages all women over 40 to have yearly mammograms (every two years after the age of 50) and advises mammograms should be used in conjunction with a physical examination by a doctor.

A mammogram is an effective tool for early detection and has been proven through scientific studies to reduce death rates from breast cancer.

* The management of breast lumps

Dr Belinda Scott, breast surgeon and chair of the Foundation's medical advisory committee makes the following recommendation to women:

"Don't let your doctor minimise your management of breast lumps no matter what age you are. If you have a symptom you need to get a doctor's examination, imaging with ultrasound and mammography and a sample or biopsy. Until these procedures have been carried out and breast cancer is ruled out, there is no room for complacency."

Early detection is your best protection. Regularly check your breasts yourself, looking for lumps or changes such as thickening, puckering or dimpling on the surface of the skin, unusual pain or discomfort, and/or nipple discharge.

* Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

The Foundation emphasises that HRT has one main indication - to control the symptoms of menopause. Dr Scott says women are now advised to use HRT only for these menopausal symptoms.

"Research has indicated that HRT is not as safe as we initially thought. We have always known of the increased risk in breast cancer with HRT, this is not a new discovery. What are new are recent findings that women on HRT could face an increased risk of heart disease and strokes.

"The conditions HRT was once prescribed for (for example heart disease, hip fractures and other bone density implications) aren't relevant to this form of medication anymore. There are now better drugs available which have been tailored specifically for these conditions, which doctors can prescribe," says Dr Scott.

Women must weigh up the benefit of HRT for their individual use and weigh up the personal benefits versus risk. It is important that they make an informed decision after being presented with the facts, and reassess their need for HRT often - every two to three years, in consultation with their GP.

Women on HRT should ensure they attend a regular breast-screening programme or visit their doctor for regular breast examinations.

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