MANY women under the age of 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer in South Africa. Being overweight and having low levels of physical activity adds to breast cancer risk. This is according to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). With October being Cancer Awareness Month, CANSA, together with the Department of Health, chose this month to raise awareness on breast cancer. According to the World Health Organisation, “cancer impacts about 2,1 million women each year and causes the greatest number of cancer-related death among women.”Nhlakanipho Mahlangu, spokesperson for the Church of Scotland Hospital in Tugela Ferry, said the hospital has embarked on numerous programmes to raise awareness on breast cancer.“The hospital has printed educational and information and communication material on breast cancer to raise awareness to all clients who utilise the hospital and urge all women to screen for breast cancer. This information is also accompanied by health education on a daily basis at our Out Patient Department waiting areas, maternity department as well as in female wards. “If cancer is allowed to progress without treatment, symptoms get worse and new symptoms build up over time.“Cancer kills by invading key organs (like the intestines, lungs, brain, liver, and kidneys) and interfering with body functions that are necessary to live. Untreated cancer commonly causes death.” The hospital urged the community to visit health care facilities to test for breast cancer. Mahlangu said the department is not aware of any proven study that confirms that cannabis can treat cancer. “Our advice to all community members is that early detection saves lives, so it very important that all women examine their breasts regularly, at least on a monthly basis, to be familiar with their breasts so that it becomes easier to pick up something that is abnormal. “[The community] needs to understand that some people have different signs and symptoms. If you have any signs, do not hesitate to visit our health facilities right away. “Women who are over 40 years of age who attend state Primary Health Facilities qualify for clinical breast examinations (provider initiated screening clinical breast examination). It is also advisable that women who are breastfeeding postpone weaning to reduce their future risk of breast cancer. The total number of months a woman breastfeeds can impact lifetime risk. This is yet another reason why breastfeeding should be encouraged to be common practice,” Mahlangu said.Although women are at risk of getting cancer, family history also increases the risk. During Cancer Awareness Month, CANSA focuses on breast cancer, particularly turning the spotlight on the needs of patients with advanced or Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC).“Breast cancer is the leading cancer affecting women in South Africa. According to the National Cancer Registry, one in 26 women are at risk of being diagnosed in their lifetime.”According to CANSA, although both men and women may suffer from MBC, about 99% of cases affect women.“MBC occurs when the cancer has spread to other and often distant sites in the body; like the liver, lungs, bone, brain and or other organs or tissues. While MBC is treatable, there is no cure for this disease. The goal of treatment is to limit progression, symptom control and pain management. Access to mental health care has been identified as a need for MBC patients, as well as improvements in lifelong surveillance, tracking of patients and access to routine assessments; including mammography, bone density scanning and gynaecological assessments.”Gerda Strauss, Head of Service Delivery at CANSA, said: “Patients with MBC have a tough journey ahead of them. There’s a misconception that those that have survived the disease fought harder than those that didn’t, this isn’t true. Comparison judgements hurt, especially those that are left behind. These women are struggling daily to cope with the trauma as well as the physical limitations that come with it. No matter what your cancer diagnosis, stage or treatment outcome, everyone who is going through the journey of a cancer diagnosis is doing their best to survive another day and should be saluted.”CANSA offers counselling and emotional support to cancer patients and families as well as medical equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers to assist with mobility difficulties or eggshell mattresses to help with lying down more comfortably. FACTS ABOUT METASTATIC BREAST CANCER (MBC):• It is treatable, however there is no cure • The goal of treatment is to limit progression, symptom control and pain managementSYMPTOMS OF METASTATIC BREAST CANCER • Spinal cord compression • Sepsis fever • Lung metastasis, shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, dry cough• Seizures, headaches, personality changes, confusion For more information call 0800 226622 toll free; visit www.cansa.org.za or WhatsApp CANSA at either 072 197 9305 or 071 867 3530.