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Knowing Your Boobs Could Save Your Life

Kris Hallenga’s personal experience of breast cancer at 22 inspired her to set up CoppaFeel! the charity reminding us that checking our boobs could be a life saver.

Knowing Your Boobs
Kristin and Maren Hallenga

Many young people think breast cancer cannot afflict them. But Kris Hallenga knows it’s not true.

Kris’s personal story started when, at just 22, she found a lump in her breast. “I went to the doctor and was told it was nothing to worry about,” she says. “Eight months later it was diagnosed as breast cancer. By then it had spread to my spine.”

Radiotherapy, chemotherapy and mastectomy followed, but within a few weeks of diagnosis Kris and her sister Maren founded the charity CoppaFeel! to encourage young people to check their boobs regularly.

Now 29, she says: “We founded CoppaFeel! because no-one was addressing young people about this. We started with a stall at a music festival, talking about boobs. A simple message delivered in a fun way sticks.”

That simple message is: check your boobs and get to know what is normal for you. “One in eight women experiences breast cancer and most cancers are detected through self-checking,” says Kris. “There is no right or wrong way – just do it. If you find anything different go to your GP. Early detection improves outcomes.”

Know the signs and symptoms. CoppaFeel! advises:

  • Look for changes in skin texture (puckering or dimpling), nipple discharge, inversion or changes in direction, swelling in the armpit or round the collarbone, changes in size or shape and rashes or crusting around the nipple or surrounding area.
  • Feel for lumps, thickening, or constant pain in the breast or armpit.

See the instructions at http://coppafeel.org/boob-check/

CoppaFeel! offers a text reminder service that urges people to check regularly and often. Already 23,000 have signed up. The #Breastmates campaign encourages people to remind mates to check their boobs. “My personal Breastmate is Maren, who urged me to return to the doctor with my own lump,” says Kris.

The charity recruits ‘Boobettes’, people 18-35 affected by breast cancer, to give talks to young people. It also runs Festifeel a festival combining music and breast awareness, takes its inflatable ‘Boobcube’ to summer festivals, recruits Uni Boob Team leaders to campaign in universities, and encourages people to take part in events such as marathons, sometimes wearing a giant inflatable boob.

It all sounds fun (and they are looking for more volunteers) but it also saves lives. “Soon after we started I got an email from a girl who was diagnosed early because she read my personal story,” says Kris. “It’s a simple message: check your boobs.”

Why Ovarian Cancer Remains Difficult to Diagnose

At just 30 years old, Fiona Munro has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Here she tells about why doctors were so quick to dismiss her symptoms and what you should look out for.

Ovarian Cancer

“Last August I had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. This led to surgery. After my operation I frequented my GP with complaints of abdominal pain, swelling and the need to pee a lot. She assured me that these symptoms were due to irritation caused by pregnancy but referred me for an ultrasound to reassure me.

The radiologist said I had large cysts on both of my ovaries. She said one looked ‘abnormal’ and perhaps a post-surgery infection was causing my symptoms. I mentioned my family history of ovarian cancer and asked if she thought I should be concerned. She said it was unlikely at my age but that she would refer me to see a consultant gynaecologist and arrange for my GP to take a CA125 blood test to rule it out.

The gynaecologist confirmed that my CA125 blood test results were elevated but he wasn’t concerned because this can also indicate an infection. He asked about sexual partners and said he was going to test me for STIs. I stated that I had been with my husband for 7 years and that I was concerned about ovarian cancer due to my persistent symptoms and family history of the disease.

He told me that he was not concerned and I was not at risk of ovarian cancer.

Over the next few weeks my abdominal swelling reached a point where I was unable to eat and I was growing increasingly anxious about my health.

When I returned to see the gynaecologist he said my tests had come back clear. Despite voicing my concerns again, he insisted I had a post-surgery infection. At a follow-up appointment my CA125 levels had risen even higher. He continued to reassure me that I had a post-surgery infection.

Two weeks later the abdominal swelling and pain got to be too much. I had another ultrasound that showed a build-up of fluid and I was admitted to hospital that night. They drained five litres of fluid from my abdominal cavity.

I was, again, assured that this was a sign of infection, given antibiotics and asked to come in the following week for an MRI. When I came in I was told that the fluid had tested clear from infection and that the lab was conducting further tests.

The further tests confirmed my worst fears. The fluid contained ovarian cancer cells.

After 6 months of appointments, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer.

What my story shows is that ovarian cancer is a beast to diagnose. But also that we women need to be persistent if they think something’s wrong. Nobody knows your body better than you do – listen to it.”

The symptoms of ovarian cancer are;

• Persistent tummy pain
• Persistent bloating
• Needing to pee more often than usual
• Feeling full very quickly

For more information visit www.ovarian.org.uk. To read more about Fiona’s journey, visit www.fkmunro.com

Angelina Jolie Raises Awareness of Genetic Cancer Link

Angelina’s decision to undergo a double mastectomy as a carrier of the faulty BRCA gene mutation put the issue in the spotlight; however a report shows it’s had little impact on the number of women with a family history being genetically tested.

Angelina Jolie

The study by medical research charity Ovarian Cancer Action to mark Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month (March) shows that while almost 90% of women are aware of the Angelina story, and more than 90% understood her decision to undergo the double mastectomy, only one in ten were then prompted by it to look into their own family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

Of those that did look into their family history, only 2% had a genetic test for the BRCA gene mutation, while a third found it difficult to find out information about their family’s history of ovarian and breast cancer.

15% of women said they felt nervous about discussing the subject of breast / ovarian cancer with their immediate family, while 1 in 6 said they felt afraid of discussing it.

More than 60% say they are not aware of where to get more info about genetic testing, while

63% have not heard of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.

A family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer may indicate that there is the presence of a BRCA1/2 mutation, which increases the risk of getting ovarian cancer from 1 in 54 to 1 in 2.

The message for ALL women, especially those with a significant family history of either breast and/or ovarian cancer, is to be ‘BRCA aware’ by checking out their family medical history. It could save their life.

Known as the most deadly gynecological cancers – ovarian cancer kills 1 woman every 2 hours here in the UK and with 7,000 new UK diagnoses each year. A shocking 32% of ovarian cancer patients in the UK are diagnosed each year through an emergency route.

There’s currently no screening tool for ovarian cancer and symptoms are often confused by both women and doctors for other conditions. Of the women surveyed, more than half were unaware that persistent stomach pains and bloating could be a sign. Likewise 60% were unaware increased stomach size, 85% difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and 80% needing to urinate more frequently were clear signs of ovarian cancer.

The charity is also launching its BRCA Risk Tool – an online risk calculator @ovarian.org.uk – designed to help people make more informed choices about whether BRCA1/2 testing should be considered.

Facts about ovarian cancer

  • Known as the most deadly of the gynecological cancers  – and currently the 5th most common cancer among women
  • 1 woman every 2 hours dies from the disease in the UK
  • 7,000 new UK diagnoses each year
  • A shocking 32% of ovarian cancer patients in the UK are diagnosed each year through emergency services

The four main symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Persistent stomach pain
  • Persistent bloating or increased stomach size
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Needing to urinate more frequently

The key features of the symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Their persistency – they don’t go away
  • Their frequency – they occur on most days
  • They are new – they started in the last 12 months
  • They are unusual – they are not normal for you

Spotting the Signs of Breast Cancer

Carol Micklethwaite, 45, from Barnsley, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2012 after noticing some discharge from her nipple.

Carol Mickelthwaite

Here’s what Carol had to say…

“I always knew it was important to know all the signs of breast cancer, but it was looking for a lump that always sprang to mind.

“Then after a workout in the gym one morning I noticed a tiny spot of red discharge from my nipple when changing. I had no other symptoms, but thought it was a bit unusual so at the end of the week I went to see my GP.

“It never crossed my mind it could be breast cancer, so when I was diagnosed I was totally stunned. Even when I told people, many assumed I’d found a lump.

“It’s so crucial that even if someone finds the slightest change and it just doesn’t seem right, they go and see their GP. I’m so glad that I did and was able to be treated quickly.”