Breast health is an important component of a woman’s overall wellness. As Breast Cancer Awareness Month is under way, we’ll be seeing pink awareness efforts everywhere. Raising awareness is a great thing, but it is also important to remember that as the prevalence of breast cancer increases it is a public health concern that is a year-round issue and one that has an ongoing place in health and wellness programmes in the workplace
Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer and a leading cause of death among South African women, affecting women both above and below the age of 40, with a lifetime risk of 1 in 25, according to the 2016 National Cancer Registry (NCR).
The outlook for patients diagnosed with breast cancer has been steadily improving for many years, with several significant advances taking place in the past 10 years. Along with more-effective therapies with fewer side effects than traditional treatment, it is important to give women a greater understanding of the risks and of accessible preventive measures that give women everyday tools to protect themselves against this disease.
The risk for breast cancer increases as women grow older, but many women under the age of 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer. All women are at risk, and in particular women with a family history of breast cancer. Being overweight, inactive, consuming alcohol, poor dietary habits, smoking and exposure to chemicals also increases the risk.
If an invasive cancer is localised only in the breast, the 5-year survival rate of women with breast cancer is 99 percent.
Reduce your risk through self breast examinations and mammograms
Early detection of the condition can lead to effective treatment and a positive prognosis. If an invasive cancer is localised only in the breast, the 5-year survival rate of women with breast cancer is 99 percent. Conducting regular self-breast examination and having regular mammograms are key to early detection.
Research has shown that a regular Breast Self-Examination (BSE) plays a very important role in discovering breast cancer, compared to finding a breast lump by chance. This should be done once a month, preferably at the same time of day, following a woman’s menstrual cycle. An annual mammogram is the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before a malignant lump can be felt.
An annual mammogram is the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer early, sometimes up to three years before a malignant lump can be felt.
When should you start screening for breast cancer?
If you are at an average risk of breast cancer, it is recommended that you:
- Examine your own breasts each month and get to know what is normal for you
- After the age of 40 see your doctor every six to 12 months for a clinical breast examination
- After the age of 40 get a mammogram and sonar at least every two years
- After the age of 50 get a mammogram and ultrasound every year
When to see the doctor
Not all signs and symptoms are breast cancer, but if you note any changes during your regular breast checks it is important to see your doctor immediately for a check-up. Make an appointment with your doctor if you encounter any of these symptoms:
- Pain in the breast or under the armpit (not related to your menstrual cycle)
- Pain lasting longer than two weeks; worsening over time
- Any lump or thickening in your breast or armpit
- Changes in the size, shape or colour of one or both breasts
- Skin changes – redness, dimpling (looks like an orange peel), rash, itching or flaky skin
- Nipple changes – in the position or shape; nipple discharge