October is breast cancer awareness month, a reminder to South Africans to take testing and self- examination seriously. One in 29 women in South Africa will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime according to figures from the South African National Registry. A recent study published by medical journal Lancet predicts that South Africa could see an increase of 78% in the number of cancer cases by 2030.
Startling as these statistics are, the good news is that breast cancer, as with other types of cancers, is treatable when detected early. Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer in South Africa followed by cervical cancer.
Breast cancer is the growth of cancer cells and a malignant tumour that starts in the cells of the breast. It is found mostly in women, but men can also get breast cancer.
ZAZI is encouraging women from as young as 20, to older women to examine their breasts regularly, preferably monthly, and to go for medical check-ups. Breast cancer is easily detectable as a lump often appears in one or both breasts. This lump is usually hard and painless with uneven edges. It's important to get anything unusual checked by a health professional.
Other signs of breast cancer include the following:
- 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.
- A lump in the underarm area
Maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise is also key to preventing cancer. Medical experts advise against high fat diets, alcohol and smoking as these factors increase the chances of getting cancer.
This October gather your girlfriends around, spread the word of self-examination and help save breasts and lives. Here is some helpful information to get you started.
FIVE STEPS OF BREAST SELF EXAMINATION
Step 1: Begin by looking at your breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.
Here's what you should look for:
Breasts that are their usual size, shape, and colour
Breasts that are evenly shaped without visible distortion or swelling
If you see any of the following changes, bring them to your doctor's attention:
- Dimpling, puckering, or bulging of the skin
- A nipple that has changed position or an inverted nipple (pushed inward instead of sticking out)
- Redness, soreness, rash, or swelling
Step 2: Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes.
Step 3: While you're at the mirror, look for any signs of fluid coming out of one or both nipples (this could be a watery, milky, or yellow fluid or blood).
Step 4: Next, feel your breasts while lying down, using your right hand to feel your left breast and then your left hand to feel your right breast. Use a firm, smooth touch with the first few finger pads of your hand, keeping the fingers flat and together. Use a circular motion like you're writing the number 6.
Cover the entire breast from top to bottom, side to side -- from your collarbone to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.
Follow a pattern to be sure that you cover the whole breast. You can begin at the nipple, moving in larger and larger circles until you reach the outer edge of the breast. This up-and-down approach seems to work best for most women. Be sure to feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts: for the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure; use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts; use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back. When you've reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.
Step 5: Finally, feel your breasts while you are standing or sitting. Many women find that the easiest way to feel their breasts is when their skin is wet and slippery, so they like to do this step in the shower. Cover your entire breast, using the same hand movements described in step 4.
TREATMENT OF BREAST CANCER
Breast cancer can be treated in a number of ways:
Surgery is the usual initial treatment of breast cancer. A desirable aim of surgical treatment is to conserve the breast if possible, and this involves removing the cancer with the safest minimal amount of surrounding tissue.
There are some patients where this is not possible and total removal of the affected breast and underlying muscles, (i.e. mastectomy), is required.
Radiotherapy uses high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be given before or after surgery. After surgery may be necessary if it is felt that there may be cancer cells left in the remaining breast tissue which may cause the cancer to recur in the breast a subsequent date.
Chemotherapy uses specialised drugs to kill cancer cells. Usually a combination of drugs is given in a pill or by injection. Your healthcare practitioner will determine whether chemotherapy should be administered.