Pasifika Women: Why We Need to Be Checking Our Breasts
Innovation Lead for Moana Research, Amio Ikihele, explains why it’s particularly important for Pacific women to check their breasts in the quest to spot breast cancer as early as possible
5 min read
We all seem to know someone in our family or community who has been affected by breast cancer or has lost a loved one to this disease. But what’s more tragic is that in many cases, with early detection, many of these deaths are preventable.
In 2017, Brown and colleagues (from NZ) explored the characteristics of, and differences between, Pasifika women and New Zealand European women diagnosed with breast cancer in New Zealand.
Their research found:
1. Pasifika women were more likely than New Zealand European women to be diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 45 years.
Why this matters: This is under the screening age where free mammograms start at 45 years
2. Once diagnosed, Pasifika women were 2.6 times more likely to be at Stage 4 breast cancer than New Zealand European women.
Why this matters: There are four stages of breast cancer and Stage 4 is the most advanced
3. The size of the breast cancer tumour was over 2.5 times more likely to be 50mm or greater for Pasifika women
Why this matters: This is about the size of a small lime. Tumours can be as small as a grain of sand.
4. Pasifika women who were diagnosed were more likely to live in Auckland, be urban-based and live in a higher deprivation area.
Why this matters: This doesn’t mean Pasifika women living in other cities aren’t affected though. Note this study only used Auckland and Waikato breast cancer registries so we can’t generalise this finding to Pacific women across New Zealand.
5. Pasifika women were less likely to be diagnosed through screening and more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage.
Why this matters: Don’t wait until you’re 45 years. You should still double check your breasts
These findings are concerning for us as we think about the many mothers, aunties, sisters, nieces and daughters we know. We also think about the many Pasifika women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or have succumbed to this illness.
Here’s how our Pasifika women can be breast aware
- Don’t wait until you’re 45
Breast cancer has affected more of our younger Pasifika women than those aged over 45 years. Yes we get it, the free mammograms start then, but you can do simple checks at home yourself. If you’re worried about any lump, discolouration, discharge, pain or ANYTHING – please make an appointment with your doctor or nurse. Do not put this off until tomorrow or next week – this can easily turn into months without any action. Do it today.
2. Self-examine your breasts at home
There are simple checks you can do at home after you have a shower. The NZ Breast Cancer Foundation offer great advice on how to undertake breast self examination using three steps – touch, look and check.
Yes, you might find it ‘weird’ doing this but hey, no one else is watching you. But remember, if you are worried about ANYTHING, please make an appointment with your doctor or nurse for medical advice.
3. Please, go for your mammogram
Yes, it’s embarrassing.
Yes, you have to show your breasts to the female radiographer in the room.
Yes, a picture of both breasts is taken.
Of course, it’s private, but most of all, know that you’ve made the RIGHT decision.
Mammograms are still the best method for detecting tumours as small as a pea. If you are under 45, you can make an appointment to have a private mammogram done which will cost you between $180-$200. We hope that before you pay for a private mammogram, you have sought medical advice from your doctor, just to double check nothing else is going on.
Once you reach 45, you will be invited to attend your free appointment. Yay!
4. If you are worried about anything, seek advice straight away
Please make an appointment with your doctor or nurse for medical advice.
To our beautiful princess warriors, DON’T WAIT. Know when you check your breasts, you are thinking about your children and grandchildren (including future), and the many family and friends who love you to do the right thing.
To the men who have princess warriors in their lives, encourage her to ‘self-check’ and to ‘seek medical advice’ if you or she is worried.
To all our Pasifika women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, who are undergoing treatment, who are in remission and those who have had family members succumb to breast cancer – we send our LOVE out to you all.
Who can you contact?
If you’re 45 years and over call 0800 270 200 to book your free mammogram. Alternatively, you can do this online here.
You can freephone 0800 BC NURSE (22 68773) with any breast health or breast cancer queries Monday-Friday.
Or contact your doctor or nurse if you are worried about anything.