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breast cancer pink ribbon

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Understanding Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer affects millions of women across the globe. According to statistics from the National Cancer Registry (NCR) 2014, the top five cancers affecting women in South Africa are:

  • breast cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • colorectal cancer
  • uterine cancer
  • lung cancer

Approximately 19.4 million women aged 15 years and older live at-risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. In 2013, deaths from breast cancer and cancers of the female genital tract, accounted for 0.7% and 1% of all deaths in South Africa respectively, according to CANSA.

With early detection and quick treatment, the prognosis for women with breast cancer is usually excellent. It is rare, but male breast cancer can be cured or controlled if found early and treated immediately.

The key to early detection is knowing what to look for, and these are some of the possible early signs/symptoms of breast cancer:

• Lumps or thickening that doesn’t go away or that changes
• Swelling, puckering or dimpling of the breast
• Skin irritation
• Pain or tenderness of the nipple
• Liquid that comes from the nipple without squeezing

There are a number of ways to determine if you have breast cancer, such as having a breast exam conducted by a doctor. Another is a biopsies, in which a small piece of the tumour is extracted and examined by a pathologist. You can also have an ultrasound to find the location of the tumour.

An annual medical check-up and cancer screening for early detection should be done as symptoms don’t always present until the cancer has spread. Awareness of the symptoms and early detection can help lead to earlier diagnosis, which improves treatment outcomes. What happens if you have cancer? How is it treated?

Breast Cancer Treatment Options

Breast cancer that is detected early is treatable by:

• Surgery
• Radiation therapy
• Chemotherapy
• Hormonal therapy
• Adjuvant therapy is an additional therapy that may consist of chemotherapy or hormone therapy after surgery.

Most importantly, by conducting regular self-examinations and going for annual medical check-ups to your doctor, early detection could result in improved treatment outcomes.

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