Breast cancer awareness month
Did you know breast cancer is the most common cancer among South African women? Statistics show the average lifetime risk for breast cancer among South African women is 1 in 29.
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 to also spread awareness about breast cancer.
Breast cancer facts
- Every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer.
- 1 In every 8 women who reach the age of 85 and would’ve overcome breast cancer in their lifetime.
- 70% of all breast cancer cases are discovered by breast self-examinations.
- 8 Out of 10 times, lumps aren’t cancerous.
- A mammogram can detect breast cancer as much as 2 years before it is large enough to feel.
- In America, breast cancer among men constitutes about 1% of cases.
- Every woman is at risk for developing breast cancer; this risk increases as women grow older.
Early breast cancer normally has no symptoms but as the tumour grows bigger, the breast may start looking or feeling different. Typical changes include:
- A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the armpit.
- A change in the form or size of the breast.
- Dimpling or puckering in the skin of the breast.
- An inverted nipple.
- Abnormal nipple discharge.
- Skin on the breast, nipple or areola (the dark part around the nipple) that is scaly, red or swollen.
- The skin of the breast looks and feels like orange peel.
Why is the early detection of breast cancer so important?
Early detection can save your life. Breast cancer that’s detected early can be treated more effectively with a greater chance of recovery. Even if you’re feeling well now, you’re still at risk of developing breast cancer because you’re a woman and you’re ageing. However, regular check-ups provide peace of mind. Be aware of how your breasts normally looks and feels and talk to your health practitioner if you notice any changes. Breast self-examinations should be done every month during ovulation (preferably at the same time in the day).
A lot of women find that their breasts sometimes feel lumpy – this is normal. If you notice a change in your breasts or armpits, though, ask your health practitioner to do a clinical breast examination (CBE). A CBE is a visual and tangible examination of the entire breast – from the collarbone to the bra line and from the armpits to the breastbone. If your routine medical check-up doesn’t include a CBE by a health practitioner, ask to have it done. Women that are aged 40 or older, or have other risk factors such as a BRCA1/2 mutation, should have a mammogram done.
Which methods other than the self-examination are there to identify breast cancer?
Except a clinical breast examination, there are also mammograms and breast sonars.
- Mammogram – for women in their postmenopausal age. It’s recommended that women older than 40 should have a mammogram done at least once a year.
- Breast sonar – especially for younger women, since mammograms don’t always identify lumps then.
Are there cases where women discover lumps that aren’t cancerous?
Yes, it’s possible to find lumps that aren’t cancerous. These are usually called a fibroadenoma - a small tumour in the breast that’s usually not malignant.
- It’s a hormonal thickening of tissue and usually gets smaller after a while.
- Fibroadenomas don’t necessarily have to be removed unless it grows bigger or doctors have a reason to believe it’s malignant.
Preventative measures for breast cancer
There’s no tried and tested recipe that could be followed to make sure you don’t get breast cancer, but there are a number of things you can do to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
- 4 Hours of exercise per week reduces the risk for breast cancer as it improves the immune system.
- A healthy diet is also beneficial - lots of fruit and vegetables especially reduce the risk.
- There’s uncertainty about what effect smoking has on breast cancer, but it does have an effect on survival if you’ve already been diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Alcohol also increases your risk of breast cancer and should therefore be consumed in moderation.
- Studies show an increasing risk for women younger than 35 that have been using contraceptives for more than 10 years.
- Modern risk assessment makes it possible to determine your individual risk and also act preventatively.
If you discover a lump in your breast or become aware of any other abnormalities, please visit your nearest hospital or clinic.
Ask the nurse to show you how to do a self-examination and act preventatively against breast cancer. The sooner it’s identified, the better your chances of recovery.
Looking for information on breast cancer?
The best place to go for more information as well as support is the Cancer Association of South Africa. Their website has a large database of information on breast cancer as well as most of the other cancers that affect us. You can also contact them via their helpline on 0800 22 66 22.
Alternatively, you can visit your nearest clinic and speak to the health practitioners for more information.