How to beat breast cancer

By admin
03 October 2014

October is Breast Health Awareness Month! Here's a guide to risk factors, warning signs and options for treatment.

Current statistics show that 1 in 29 South African women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, according to The Radiological Society of South Africa (RSSA) and Breast Imaging Society of South Africa However, this statistic increases drastically in more westernised countries where the incidence is as high as 1 in 8. Of all the cancers, breast cancer is the most common cancer in South African women -- it makes up more than 50% of all cancer diagnoses. “Early diagnosis gives the cancer patient a higher chance of complete cure and less extensive surgery," explains Dr Sheldon Godinho, President of RSSA. "Early detection is a critically important factor in winning the battle against breast cancer."

When should you be tested?

“We encourage all women to start regular mammography from the age of 40, regardless of whether they have symptoms or have an abnormality – preventative care is the key objective. We also encourage all women to regularly check their breasts for any irregularities and have a clinical breast examination by a GP or gynaecologist at least once a year. If you notice any abnormality in your breasts regardless of your age, it is essential that you consult a medical professional. Many lumps are harmless but all of them must be checked,” adds Dr Godinho.

Some experts recommend starting annual mammograms even earlier. Dr Gereth Edwards, plastic and reconstructive surgeon says he regularly treats women as young as 18 who’re facing the ravages of breast cancer.

Where there is a family history of breast cancer you should start screening 10 years before your affected family member was first diagnosed, says Pretoria radiologist Dr Piet Oberholzer. ‘‘If your relative was diagnosed at 43 you should start screening when you’re 33,’’ he says.

Currently many patients  have both a mammogram and an ultrasound scan. Not all cancers are visible on a mammogram because some women have very dense breast tissue that can mask a growth – which is why an ultrasound scan is done too.   Women with extensive fat replacement of the breast tissue do not need ultrasound.  The radiologist will decide after looking at the mamamogram.

A mammogram shouldn’t be painful. If your breasts become tender during menstruation go for your mammogram seven to 10 days after your period. If your radiolgist doesn’t store the images digitally you should keep your mammogram and ultrasound results so your doctor can compare results when you go for your next examination. The RSSA advises women to ensure that the screening examination offered one recognised by radiologists and cancer assiociations throughout the world.  ‘The mainstay of breast imaging is mammography, ultrasound and MRI. Other tests offered such as thermography, light illumination of the breast and devices which only measure the hardness of the breast have no diagnostic value and are potentially dangerous as they can miss treatable breast cancer. If in doubt ask a radiolgist says  Dr Richard Tuft, Executive Director of the RSSA.

High-risk factors 

Every woman is potentially at risk of getting breast cancer. However, there are certain factors that would put women in a higher risk category. The risk factors include:

  • Age - The risk of developing breast cancer increases as you get older. About 1 out of 8 invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45, while about 2 of 3 invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 or older.
  • Family history - Breast cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives have this disease. Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman's risk. Having 2 first-degree relatives increases her risk about three-fold.
  • Personal history - A woman with cancer in one breast has a three to four times increased risk of developing a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. This is different from a recurrence (return) of the first cancer.
  • Dense breast tissue -Women with denser breast tissue (as seen on a mammogram) have more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue, and have a higher risk of breast cancer. Unfortunately, dense breast tissue can also make it harder for doctors to spot problems on mammograms.
  • Overweight or obese women – Research has shown that being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast and other cancers. Now, a larger study suggests that overweight and obese women diagnosed with early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer have a higher risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence) and are less likely to survive the disease.
  • Lifestyle factors – excessive alcohol use, little to no physical activity, smoking and diets high in saturated fats increase the risk of breast cancer.
During the month of October, certain doctors are offering 10% discount on mammograms for private patients and making charity donations when  medical aid examinations are done,  from 1 October - 15 November 2014. Click here to download a list of the doctors participating in the campaign. Adapted from information provided by The Radiological Society of South Africa (RSSA) and Breast Imaging Society of South Africa, and YOU, October 2006.

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