When Traralgon woman Nik Le Sage booked in for a routine check-up during a visit by BreastScreen Victoria’s mobile breast screening service to Ramahyuck in November 2017, she didn’t think twice about what the scan might find.
Strong and healthy with a passion for exercise, Ms Le Sage has never considered herself at risk of developing cancer. She could feel no lumps or pain in her breasts, had no family history of cancer and didn’t believe herself to be at risk.
Rather, Ms Le Sage made the appointment to encourage others from her “mob” – women from the Latrobe Aboriginal community – to overcome their embarrassment and cultural reluctance and have their breasts screened.
So it was a big surprise to be called back for a second routine scan to clarify anomalies found in the first, followed by an ultrasound, a specialist examination and a biopsy.
“The specialist felt a lump, which he believed to be a lesion and while it isn’t cancer, a lesion can hide cancer cells,” she said.
Five days before Christmas, five weeks after her initial scan, and just a month after losing her best friend to breast cancer, Ms Le Sage had a quarter of her breast removed at Latrobe Regional Hospital and began radiotherapy treatment.
“I had a benign lesion growing in my breast which I had to have removed, and I’ll have six monthly mammograms for two years, but I know it’s going to be ok,” Ms Le Sage said.
“But it’s alerted me to the importance of doing women’s health checks. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this could happen to me and it’s really important for women of all ages to check their breasts, have any changes checked and to go for regular breast screens.”
BreastScreen Victoria offers free mammograms, and follow-up tests where necessary, to find breast cancer early before any symptoms are noticed and when treatment is most successful.
Three quarters of women diagnosed with breast cancer are aged 50 and over, so breast screening is recommended every two years for women in this age group.
“While women with a strong family history of breast cancer have a higher than average risk, nine out of 10 women have no family history of the disease,” Julie Foat from BreastScreen Victoria said.
The chief executive officer of Gippsland PHN, Marianne Shearer, said “women have the best chance of surviving breast cancer when it is detected early and the best way to achieve that is through a breast screen every two years.”
However, figures show that breast cancer screening rates in the Latrobe Valley are below the state average, particularly among women in Moe, Morwell and Churchill, “that’s why Gippsland PHN brought the mobile breast screening van to Latrobe,” Ms Shearer said.
Since sharing her experience on Facebook, Ms Le Sage says 11 family members and friends have attended BreastScreen clinics and two have been called back to investigate lumps they otherwise couldn’t detect.
“I hope my experience encourages all women to go for a breast screen,” Ms Le Sage said. “It’s such a simple process, it doesn’t hurt and everything is arranged for you. They are the most caring staff members I’ve ever encountered.”
Book your free BreastScreen on 13 20 50.
Gippsland PHN is running an innovative three-year project designed to improve the long-term health and wellbeing of Latrobe Valley residents. Funded by the Victorian Government as part of the Latrobe Health Innovation Zone, the project is working with the community and local health providers to help increase participation in screening for preventable cancers, such as breast cancer.