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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need To Know

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: What You Need To Know

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. While most of us are probably familiar with the disease, we may not necessarily be aware of the extent to which it affects women both globally and in South Africa.

“According to the National Cancer Registry (2005)1, breast cancer is the most common cancer among South African women, constituting 20.82 % of all cancers,2 ” says Allison Vienings, Executive Director of the Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa (SMASA).

And the global statistics are just as frightening. Breast cancer accounts for one out of every four diagnoses of cancer in women worldwide, with more than 1.1 million women being diagnosed annually. It is also the most frequently diagnosed cancer and is the leading cause of deaths among women diagnosed with cancer globally. 3

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the breast become harmful and attack and destroy surrounding tissue. 4

Signs and Symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms of breast cancer include:5

• A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue
• Any unusual discharge from your nipple
• A change in your breast's size or shape
• Changes in the skin on your breast, such as dimpling
• Redness of the skin of your breast
• Pain or tenderness in your breast
• Peeling or flaking of the nipple.

Prevention through self-care

“Equipping yourself with information about the symptoms and triggers of breast cancer means you’re in a position to take appropriate preventive measures to reduce your risk of developing the disease,” explains Vienings.

SMASA recommends incorporating the following into your daily life to help lower the risk of breast cancer:

• Avoiding alcohol 6 – Alcohol consumption has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer. It is recommended that you limit your daily intake to one alcoholic beverage per day. 7
• Exercise – Strengthening your immune system, and maintaining a balanced weight through regular exercise, can lower your risk of breast cancer. 8
• Healthy diet – Avoid foods high in fat with little or no nutritional value. The fat found in these foods causes the production of Estrogen, which can lead to the growth of tumours. 9
• Omega-3 fats – Omega-3 fats have been associated with deterring the growth of breast tumours and can be taken as a supplement daily.
• Multivitamins – Vitamin D and antioxidants can also be taken as a supplement to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Inadequate amounts of vitamin D affect your epithelial cells and when these cells multiply and are not properly controlled, cancer may develop. 10 11
• Environment and lifestyle – The choices we make, such as smoking and lack of exercise, contribute to 90 % of the factors leading to the causes of developing cancers.

“In addition,” says Vienings, “It is crucial for all women to undertake a breast self-exam once a month, and once you reach 40, having a regular mammogram – an X-ray exam used to detect lumps in the breast – should become a high priority. 12 While lumps found in the breast are often harmless, they should never be ignored,” she emphasises.

Breast self-examination: A how-to guide

• Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern starting from the outside and moving towards the centre. Check the entire breast and armpit area. Do it in the shower, lying down, or in front of a mirror. 13
• Look for any changes in breast tissue, such as the symptoms mentioned above.
• If you discover a persistent lump in your breast, or notice any changes, it is very important that you see a physician immediately.
• Although 8 out of 10 lumps are non-threatening, all require evaluation to confirm that they are not cancerous.
• Women should perform a breast self-exam 7–10 days after their menstrual period starts – breasts are not as lumpy and tender during this period.
• It is not unusual to have lumpy or bumpy breasts. 14

If you think you may have any or all of the symptoms associated with breast cancer, visit your local health care professional or doctor immediately.




1. http://www.cansa.org.za/files/2013/08/Fact-Sheet-Breast-Cancer-Sept-2013.pdf
2. http://www.nioh.ac.za/assets/files/Cancer%20Tables%202005.pdf
3. http://www.cansa.org.za/files/2009/10/World-Wide-Cancer-Stats.pdf
4. http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00669/lowering-breast-cancer-risk.html#.UldxULpCDA0.email
5. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/02/14/beating-breast-cancer-a-guide-to-prevention-treatment-and-recovery.aspx
6. http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00669/lowering-breast-cancer-risk.html#.UldxULpCDA0.email
7. https://www.fhcrc.org/en/diseases/breast-cancer/tips-prevention.html
8. http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-faqs
9. http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-faqs
10. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/05/12/vitamin-d-may-prevent-breast-cancer.aspx
11. http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART00669/lowering-breast-cancer-risk.html#.UldxULpCDA0.email
12. http://www.cansa.org.za/womens-health/
13. http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam
14. http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-faqs