October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer. The designation of October as "Breast Cancer Awareness Month" in South Africa reflects a nationwide drive by public and private healthcare structures to raise awareness of this debilitating disease across all races and class structures.

The incidence of breast cancer among South African women is increasing and it is one of the most common cancers among women in South Africa. Although it predominantly affects woman, it can also affect men. The early detection of breast cancer is one of the most important undertakings to successfully treat the disease.

Facts about breast cancer

Early detection of the condition can lead to effective treatment and a positive prognosis. About 90% of patients survive for many years after diagnosis when breast cancer is detected at the early stages.

Regular self-breast examination and regular mammograms are key to early detection.

Presenting yourself early for treatment may result in more effective treatment, leading to a reduction in pain and suffering and a significant decrease in the loss of life.

Symptoms of breast cancer

  • General pain in or on any part of the breast (although most breast cancers present as lumps without pain)

  • Irritated or itchy breasts

  • Presence of a lump in or near the breast or in the underarm area

  • Thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area

  • A change in the size or shape of the breast

  • A dimple or puckering in the skin of the breast making it look like the skin of an orange

  • An inverted nipple (nipple turned inward into the breast)

  • Bloody discharge from, or scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple, or areola (the dark skin around the nipple)

  • Changes in how the breast feels (hardness, tenderness, or unusual warmth)

  • Skin changes, such as swelling, redness, or other visible differences in one or both breasts.

Remember, these signs and symptoms may also be attributed to several conditions other than cancer. It is, therefore, important to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Risk factors: You have an increased risk of developing breast cancer if you are:

  • Are between the ages of 40 and 50

  • Have a family history of breast cancer

  • Have a personal history of cancer and have received treatment for it

  • Gave birth to your first child after 30 or have never had children

  • Menstruated before your teens

  • Experienced menopause after the age of 50

  • Underwent long-term hormone replacement therapy.

Other possible risk factors of breast cancer include alcohol and tobacco use, obesity, a diet high in fat and a lack of physical exercise.

How to detect breast cancer

There are two key ways to detect breast cancer:

Self-examination – Every woman needs to examine her breasts and underarms regularly every month, to check for any changes to her breasts. Self-examination can help women detect cysts or other benign breast problems between check-ups. If you notice any changes in your breast during self-exams, let your doctor know.

Preventive screening – A mammogram is an X-ray examination of the breast used to detect and diagnose breast disease including a tumour that is not yet large enough to be felt. Even if you feel healthy now, just being a woman and getting older puts you at risk for breast cancer. Getting checked regularly can put your mind at ease.

Dr. Francois Malherbe trained at the University of the Free State Medical School between 1993 and 1998. He spent ten years in general surgical training before joining the Breast and Surgical Endocrine Unit at Groote Schuur Hospital and the University of Cape Town in 2014. He devotes most of his time to treating patients with breast disorders including benign breast problems and the treatment of breast cancer. At Groote Schuur Hospital he is the clinical lead in the busy breast clinic and works as part of a multi-disciplinary team; to establish a firm diagnosis as well as personalising breast cancer treatment. He is an accomplished and recognised breast specialist.

For more information or to book an appointment please contact Ingress Healthcare Centre Rondebosch.