Pink October reminds women of breast cancer check ups

Women aged 50 and over in France are being reminded that they are entitled to regular breast check-ups to avoid cancer, in this month’s 25th annual “Pink October” awareness campaign.

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If you are aged 50 to 74, and have no symptoms or any risk factor for breast cancer, you are entitled in France to a check up every two years as part of the national scheme.

Women should receive a letter in the post inviting them to a mammogram and examination.

The invitation does expire eventually - the letter will usually advise on when - so women should act quickly to ensure they do not miss out. If you have not received your letter, you are advised to contact your doctor.

The check up will consist of a clinical examination of the breasts, followed by a mammogram with a radiologist. Everything will be covered by l’Assurance Maladie, with no extra fees necessary.

In its 25th consecutive year in France, Pink October (Octobre Rose) is organised as an awareness campaign by the association Le Cancer du Sein, Parlons-en! (Breast Cancer, Let’s Talk About It!).

This year, as with every year, the Eiffel Tower will be lit up in pink today (October 1) to herald the start of Pink October.

The campaign seeks to raise awareness of symptoms and screening, and raise money for the cause. Donations are being taken via its website, which also hosts a number of forums for women to talk about cancer or their worries around the disease.

Regular screening is intended to pick up any abnormalities and symptoms as early as possible, increasing women’s chances of health and survival in the event that cancer does occur.

According to national institute, l'Institut National du Cancer (INCa), 80% of breast cancers show up in women aged between 50 and 74, hence regular checks for these ages.

In France, 12,000 women per year die of breast cancer. Each year, 54,000 new cases are found, with 3% of women expected to develop the disease within the next 10 years.

Over 99% of people with breast cancer that is detected early will survive the next five years, compared to just 26% for people with cancer in the late stages.

You do not need to have any symptoms to go for screening, but the INCa advises women and men to be aware of how their chest usually feels, and be alert to any changes.

Symptoms of breast cancer can include a lump or raised area in the breast or in the armpit; skin changes, including unusual dimpling, redness or an “orange peel” effect; changes to the nipples including a significant change in size, colour, or any unusual discharge; and significant unexplained changes to the size or shape of one or both breasts.

It is not recommended that women aged under 50 go for regular mammograms, but they are able to request an extra examination if they are worried.

From age 25, they should have regular clinical examinations by a doctor or gynecologist every year. Any women with risk factors - such as a family member who has had breast cancer - may be given more regular check ups, if agreed with their doctor.

Women aged over 74 can discuss their options with their doctor, especially if they are considered to have a heightened risk.

The INCa website offers more details on screening and risk factors, including drinking excess alcohol, which, it says, causes 8,081 breast cancer cases a year.

Men are also advised to be alert to the symptoms of breast cancer, as they can also be affected in their smaller amount of breast and chest tissue. However, just 1% of cases affect men.

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