Breast cancer - the facts

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Breast cancer and cervical cancer are the two most prevalent cancers amongst South African women.

Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells form a mass of extra tissue in the breast. The disease can be discovered by examination of the breasts, whether by yourself or a physician. Treatment depends on the stage and type of cancer, as well as on the age and health of a patient.

Most cancers begin in the breast ducts or lobules and can spread from there to the lymph nodes and from there to other organs via the blood system.

11 percent of women get breast cancer
Eleven percent of women are likely to develop breast cancer in their lives.(European figures based on a life expectancy of 76 years, but these figures are also correct for the South African female population at large). Seventy-seven percent of women who develop breast cancer are over age 50. Having a close relative with breast cancer doubles your risk. Recent research indicates that smoking, drinking, taking HRT for more than ten years and being on the Pill all increase risk slightly.

Symptoms of breast cancer include breast lumps, a change in the nipple appearance, an unusual nipple discharge, a change in the skin of the breast and a lump or a swelling under the arm.

A mammogram is a low-intensity X-ray of the breast. It can detect abnormalities before they grow large enough to be felt. This screening can detect 85 – 90 percent of breast cancers. Women over the age of 50 are advised to have a mammogram done annually. If a lump is found, a biopsy may be done to find out whether the lump is cancerous or not.

If detected early, most breast cancers can be cured. In a way, the best cure is early detection. Maintaining weight, eating a healthy low-fat diet , exercising, not smoking and breastfeeding are all thought to help prevent breast cancer.(Susan Erasmus, Health24)

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