” October, Australia’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, provides an opportunity for us all to focus on breast cancer and its impact on those affected by the disease in our community.
Breast cancer remains the most common cancer among Australian women (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer). Survival rates continue to improve in Australia with 89 out of every 100 women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer now surviving five or more years beyond diagnosis.
Take the time this month to find out what you need to know about breast awareness and share this important information with your family, friends and colleagues.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and is the second leading cause of cancer death after lung cancer. Research shows that survival is lower in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women diagnosed with breast cancer than in the general population.
Cancer Australia is committed to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to provide women with important information about breast cancer awareness, early detection as well as breast cancer treatment and care.
Looking after your breasts – Find breast cancer early and survive see Part 2 Below
See BCNA story Part 4 Below
“ BreastScreen Victoria and the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) are saying goodbye to the days of sterile, cold mammograms under fluorescent flickering lights and saying hello to mammograms in hot pink vans, with beautifully created cultural shawls and lots of love and giggles.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the organisations have introduced a program which enables Aboriginal women living in regional and remote areas of Victoria to access safe, free and comforting breast screening facilities.
“ The idea for the program was born from conversations between BreastScreen Victoria CEO, Vicki Pridmore and VACCHO Manager of Public Health and Research, Susan Forrester.
Ms Forrester said that most women shy away from breast screening due to the safety aspect.
“Why we use the word safe is because there are lots of layers around health and some of the themes that were emerging were that women may have felt a bit uncomfortable being screened for multiple reasons and at times, the staff they had contact with across the health system, although [they] may have been very well meaning, lacked cultural awareness.”
See full story Part 3 below
Picture opening graphic : Almost all the DWECH BreastScreen Team. Rose Hollis DWECH Community Worker, Allira Maes DWECH Aboriginal Health Worker, Joanne Ronald BSV Radiographer, Lisa Joyce BSV Health Promotion Officer
Part 1 Cancer Australia is committed to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to reduce the impact of cancer on Indigenous Australians
About 3 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are diagnosed with cancer every day. Indigenous Australians have a slightly lower rate of cancer diagnosis but are almost 30 per cent more likely to die from cancer than non-Indigenous Australians1.
Cancer Australia is committed to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to reduce the impact of cancer on Indigenous Australians.
Our work includes:
- raising awareness of risk factors and promoting awareness and early detection for the community
- developing evidence-based information and resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people affected by cancer and health professionals
- providing evidence-based cancer information and training resources to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers
- increasing understanding of best-practice health care and support, and
- supporting research.
We have a range of resources which provide information to support you and the work you do:
Breast Cancer: a handbook for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers
This handbook has been written to help health professionals support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with breast cancer. Increasing the understanding of breast cancer may help to encourage earlier investigation of symptoms, and contribute to the quality of life of people living with breast cancer.
This handbook has been written for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers, Health Practitioners and Aboriginal Liaison Officers involved in the care of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with breast cancer in community and clinical settings.
Part 2 BE BREAST AWARE
Finding breast cancer early provides the best chance of surviving the disease. Remember you don’t need to be an expert or use a special technique to check your breasts.
Changes to look for include:
- a new lump or lumpiness, especially if it’s only in one breast
- a change in the size or shape of your breast
- a change to the nipple, such as crusting, ulcer, redness or inversion
- a nipple discharge that occurs without squeezing
- a change in the skin of your breast such as redness or dimpling
- an unusual pain that doesn’t go away.
Most changes aren’t due to breast cancer but it’s important to see your doctor without delay if you notice any of these changes.
My breast cancer journey: a guide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their families
Cancer Australia has developed a new resource My breast cancer journey: a guide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their families which outlines the clinical management of the early breast cancer journey to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with breast cancer and their families.
Part 3 BreastScreen Victoria and the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) are saying goodbye to the days of sterile, cold mammograms under fluorescent flickering lights
The program was trialled, a screen-friendly shawl was designed using artwork by Lyn Briggs, and the shawls were gifted to each woman who was screened.
The trial was a result of a team of around 15 women who screened 14 First Nations women. The feedback received was exactly what BreastScreen Victoria’s Senior Health Promotion’s Officer, Lisa Joyce had hoped for.
“The feedback included things like, I feel safe, protected by culture, cultural safety blanket, made me proud of who I am and visible, the shawl was a screen from feeling shame and it was beautiful, easy to wear and makes you feel comfortable and safe,” Ms Joyce said.
BreastScreen Victoria and VACCHO have partnered with eight Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) who will receive visits from Nina and Marjorie – BreastScreen Victoria’s hot pink breast screening vans.
The vans will work with ACCHOs to provide Aboriginal women with free mammograms, which assist in the identification of breast cancer in its early stages. The program is aimed particularly at women between 50 and 74, who are at higher risk of breast cancer.
Picture above :Rose Hollis who is a DWECH Community Worker had her breast screen and then spent the rest of her day driving Community members to their screenings.
Amber Neilley, VACCHO’s State-wide Health Services Program Officer said artworks have been created by artists both established and emerging.
“Each shawl has been designed by a local artist, we are taking the shawls with the designs back to country,” Ms Neilley said.
Ms Joyce said that bringing the vans onto ACCHO sites offers leadership to those centres.
“We are playing into self-determination in that way as the organisation is in control of who screens and what happens in their community in that time,” Ms Joyce said.
“Many of the sites we are going to … have permanent breast screening facilities in the town but we know that Aboriginal women aren’t attending those clinics so we are trying to increase that by bringing it to a familiar place.”
“Taking the van and using the shawls is the first step in improving Aboriginal women’s experiences when they come to breast screens. I think unfamiliarity, lack of trust and potential fear is why we don’t have that contact with many women.”
Research shows that once a woman has screened for breast cancer, she is more likely to regularly screen – a hope the team have for the women in these communities.
“We hope that when the project leaves town the shawl will be in the permanent screening space and people will become involved,” Ms Forrester said.
“We want to be able to say here is a strength-based, culturally-led model that can go national, and international. The CEO of BreastScreen has just been at the World Indigenous Cancer Conference in Canada and presented this on our behalf and she has had a world of interest.”
Dates and locations for BreastScreen Victoria’s screening vans include:
- 30/9 – 4/10 at Dhauwurd-Wurrung Elderly and Community Health Service (DWECH)
- 7/10 – 10/10 at Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation
- 14/10 – 18/10 at Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative
- 21/10 – 24/10 at Kirrae Health Service
- 28/10 – 1/11 at Wathaurong Aboriginal Cooperative
- 11/11 – 15/11 at Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative
- 18/11 to 22/11 at Ramahyuck District Aboriginal Corporation.
For more information, visit: https://www.breastscreen.org.au/.
Part 4 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women share their breast cancer experience in new BCNA video
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have come together to share their stories and experiences as breast cancer survivors as part of a video produced by BCNA.
The video shares the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander women affected by breast cancer and aims to encourage other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to connect, seek support and information on breast cancer.
A number of women in the video, including Aunty Josie Hansen, highlight the importance of early detection.
‘Early detection is really important; not just for women, but for men too,’ Aunty Josie said.
‘Being diagnosed with breast cancer isn’t a death sentence, there’s always hope … as long as you have breath there’s hope,’ she said.
Aunty Thelma reflected that breast cancer is ‘just a terrible disease’.
‘I think it’s so important that women go and have their breast screens done,’ she said.
The video was filmed at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Think Tank at BCNA’s National Summit in March. The Think Tank was facilitated by BCNA board member Professor Jacinta Elston. Jacinta said that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s outcomes are poorer both in survival and at diagnosis.
The Think Tank brought together 48 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from around Australia to share issues around treatment and survivorship of breast cancer in their communities. The key outcome of the Think Tank was the development of a three-year Action Plan that outlines BCNA’s key future work, in partnership with national peak Aboriginal health organisations.
The group worked to develop and prioritise future action to improve support and care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women diagnosed with breast cancer.
This included identifying locally based cultural healing projects, to allow breast cancer survivors to connect and support each other in culturally safe spaces. A weaving project in Queensland and a possum skin cloak project in Victoria is being undertaken and used to support the training of health professionals in local culture and knowledge. The Culture is Healing projects are supported by Cancer Australia.
This video was produced as part of BCNA’s ongoing commitment to better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women diagnosed with breast cancer.
You can watch the video below: