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Look after your health this Women’s Day

Look after your health this Women’s Day

More and more often it seems that we hear of yet another family member, friend, or colleague battling cancer. This devastating disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with approximately 14 million new cases and 8.2 million recorded cancer-related deaths in 2012[1].

This August, the Self-Medication Manufacturer’s Association of South Africa (SMASA) is encouraging all women to educate themselves about those cancers that affect women, as early detection may help save their lives.

Which factors increase your risk of developing cancer?

There may not be a definitive answer to this question, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) states that around one third of cancer deaths are due to high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol over-consumption[2].

Says Allison Vienings, Executive Director of SMASA, “A cancer diagnosis is often directly linked to your family’s medical history, your lifestyle choices, and/or your environment. While you cannot control your family’s medical history, and only some aspects of your environment are within your control, your lifestyle choices are entirely yours to manage.”

Breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancer all affect women. Here’s a look at each one and a list of symptoms to watch out for:

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer that women are likely to face in their lifetime. While it can occur at any age, the risk is greater after the age of 40. The best defense is an early diagnosis – when the cancer is small, has not yet spread, and is easier to treat.

Signs and symptoms:

Breast cancer can have a number of symptoms, but the first noticeable symptom is usually a lump or area of thickened breast tissue. While most breast lumps aren’t cancerous, it’s important to always have them checked by your doctor. You should also see your GP if you notice any of the following[3]:

  • A change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • Discharge from either of your nipples
  • A lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • A rash on or around your nipple
  • A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as it becoming sunken into your breast.

 

Endometrial cancer

Endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus) occurs most often in women aged 50 and older. The early onset of menstrual periods, late menopause, a history of infertility, or not having children can also increase the risk.[4]

Signs and symptoms:

Keep a lookout for any of the following symptoms[5]:

  • Unusual spotting or bleeding not related to menstrual periods
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • Bleeding between periods
  • An abnormal, watery or blood-tinged discharge from your vagina
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during intercourse.

 

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is more likely to occur as women get older. Women who have never had children, who have unexplained infertility, or who had their first child after the age of 30 may be at increased risk for this type of cancer. Women who have used estrogen alone as hormone replacement therapy are also at high risk.

Signs and symptoms:

You should see a healthcare professional right away if you have:

  • Ongoing abdominal (belly) swelling
  • Digestive problems (including gas, loss of appetite, and bloating)
  • Abdominal, pelvic, back, or leg pain
  • The feeling that you need to urinate all the time.

For more information on all types of cancers and their signs and symptoms, visit www.cansa.org.za.