Breast cancer awareness
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. It’s one of the most common cancers among South African women; and men are slowly adding to the statistics
Global statistics show that 1 in 8 women have breast cancer. In the Western Cape, the figure is approximately 1 in 12.
At Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH) for example, between 10 and 20 new breast cancer patients are diagnosed every week. Although these figures can be scary, there’s a lot you can do to not only help yourself, but also to spread awareness about breast cancer.
Early detection and self-examination is vital
For women, monthly breast self-examination 2 days after the last day of your period is an important screening method. Women over the age of 45 should consider going for a regular mammogram. Younger women have denser breast tissue and would benefit more from an ultrasound examination than a mammogram.
Family history plays an important role in determining how prone someone is to developing cancer. This is especially true for immediate family members (mom or sister) who were diagnosed at a relatively young age. Be sure to discuss all of these issues and concerns with your doctor.
It’s also important for you to know what’s normal for your body and to be aware of symptoms of cancer, as early detection improves the chances of successful treatment. We suggested that you do a simple monthly breast self-exam to check your own breasts for lumps or anything that seems unusual.
Male breast cancer
Although male breast cancer is rare, Breast Health Foundation recorded that South Africa has the highest male breast cancer rate in the world. Two out of every 100 South Africans that are diagnosed with breast cancer, are in fact men. Many men don't know they can get breast cancer. They may not notice a change or think it’s important and may be embarrassed to say anything. This can delay diagnosis. As a result, breast cancers may be found later in men. The male breast is much smaller than the female breast - this makes it more likely that cancer will spread to the chest wall.
Fact sheet for male breast cancer.
- Family history
- Lifestyle choices
- Existing medical conditions
Finding breast cancer early can improve survival.
Signs and symptoms
The most common sign of breast cancer is a new lump or mass. A lump that is painless, hard and has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer. But some cancers are tender, soft and rounded. It's important to have anything unusual checked by a doctor. The signs and symptoms for men and women are the same.
Other possible signs of breast cancer can include:
- swelling of all or part of the breast,
- skin irritation or dimpling,
- breast pain,
- nipple pain or the nipple turning inward,
- redness, scaliness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin,
- a nipple discharge other than breast milk, and
- a lump in the underarm area.
Treatment of breast cancer has improved greatly in the recent years. If detected early, breast cancer patients now have an excellent prognosis. Everyone isn’t the same though, and many factors will influence survival including your age, tumour characteristics, the stage of the disease and the treatment plan you’ve chosen. Once you’ve been diagnosed, your doctor will discuss the relevant treatment plan with you in detail. The same treatments are used for breast cancer in men and women.
To treat your cancer, you may have one or more of the following treatments:
- Hormone therapy
- Biological therapy
Lifestyle changes that may minimise your risk
- Follow a healthy diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Stop smoking.
- Use alcohol in moderation.
- Try to have your children before the age of 30 if possible and breastfeed.
Get screened today
“I would like to encourage females, as well as males, to get screened for breast cancer as early as possible. Early detection is vital to get onto treatment so the prognosis can improve. Recently, we have seen an increase in males diagnosed with cancer. If you have a history of breast cancer in the family, please go to your nearest facility to get screened. The screening services are also offered through initiatives like Pink Drive, who visit Mitchells Plain Hospital and GSH intermittently,” says the Western Cape Minister of Health, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo.
If you or one of your friends has been diagnosed with breast cancer, these organisations can help: