Global statistics indicate that 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, but in the Western Cape, this number is higher – 1 in every 2 women who are tested are diagnosed with breast cancer.

As October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, more light is being shed on this devastating cancer.

“The number of patients seen at our symptomatic breast clinics during April 2017 – Mar 2018 comes to 7536. In 608 of these cases positive breast cancers were identified,” said Western Minister of Health, Normafrench Mbombo. “At Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH) between 10 and 20 new breast cancers are diagnosed every week. We have seen an overall increase of 6.8% of new cancers, and most alarming is the increase in the diagnosis of cancer in women under the age of 30.”

Breast cancer affects approximately 27 in 100 000 women in South Africa, and accounts for 16% of cancer deaths amongst women. The reality is that the incidence of cancer is becoming more commonplace among local women, the number of positive cancer cases is on the rise.

“Throughout this month we will intensify our drive to raise awareness of this debilitating disease on not only female population, but also the under-emphasized diagnosis in men as well,” Mbombo added. “Typically, women with breast symptoms self-present to primary health care, and that is why service at this level is so important.”

Family history also plays a very important role in who is positively diagnosed with breast cancer. Any first-degree relatives who were diagnosed with this specific cancer at a young age must be brought to the attention of a doctor.

Those who are the most at risk of being diagnosed are women, but men are equally susceptible to this form of cancer.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common presenting complaint is that of a palpable lump in the breast. These lumps are often not painful, and other signs may include a bloody nipple discharge, changes in the appearance of the skin of the breast or surrounding skin, and palpable lymph nodes in the axilla (the area directly beneath the joint of the shoulder).

Early breast cancers may be picked up by ultrasound or a mammogram before a lump can be felt.

Early detection and self-examination is vital

For women, monthly breast self-examination two days after the last day of your period is the most important screening method.

Women over the age of 45 must go to have regular mammographies. Depending on each individual’s unique risk profile, mammography should be discussed with your doctor. Younger women have denser breast tissue and would benefit more from an ultrasound examination than a mammogram.

If you have a family history of breast cancer, consider talking to your doctor about developing a breast-screening program. A simple monthly breast self-exam is suggested to check your own breasts for lumps or anything that seems out of the ordinary.

Treatment

“Great strides have been made in the treatment of breast cancer. If detected early, breast cancer patients now have an excellent prognosis,” Mbombo said. “No two individuals are the same though and many factors will influence survival including the age of the patient, tumour characteristics, the stage of the disease and the treatment plan chosen by the patient.”

Once you are diagnosed, several treatment options are available.

Treatment differs for each individual patient depending on the stage of cancer and tumour characteristics of the cancer, and a doctor will discuss the relevant treatment for each individual.

“I would like to encourage females, as well as males, to get screened for breast cancer as early as possible. Early detection is vital to get onto treatment so as to improve prognosis. Recently, we have seen an increase in males diagnosed with cancer. If you have a history of breast cancer in the family, please go to your nearest facility to get screened. The screening services are also offered through initiatives like Pink Drive, who visit Mitchells Plain Hospital and GSH intermittently,” Mbombo added.

Picture: Unsplash

Article written by

Lucinda Dordley

Lucinda is a hard news writer who occasionally dabbles in lifestyle writing, and recent journalism graduate. She enjoys reading the works of Stephen King, and exploring the beauty of Cape Town and its surrounds.