October is global Breast Cancer Awareness month, but being vigilant about this disease extends beyond pink ribbons and one month of awareness.
Fact: 1 in 29 South African women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her life.
It’s therefore clear that safeguarding yourself against this common yet potentially deadly disease is something you should be doing every month of the year.
6 things you need to know right now about breast cancer
1. Regular checks are a MUST for ALL WOMEN
- If you notice any of the following changes, visit your GP or gynae immediately. Often these are just benign
- changes, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
- Changes in the size or shape of each breast
- Thickening or lumps in the breast tissue that feel different to the rest of the breast
- Any rash or redness on the breast and/or the nipple
- A change in skin texture (puckering, dimpling or ‘orange peel’ effect)
- Any discharge from the nipple that comes out without squeezing
- Any changes to the shape or position of the nipple
- Inversion of the nipple (pulling inwards)
- Any swellings in your armpit or around your collarbone
- Nagging pain in your armpit or breast
2. Breast cancer is not particularly painful
It’s not true that you’d just ‘know’ if you had breast cancer. Often, there’s no painful lump or uncomfortable indication. In its early stages, breast cancer shows few or no symptoms and isn’t painful, which is why it’s so critical to do regular self-examinations and go for annual check-ups.
3. Three out of four women who develop breast cancer are not in the ‘high risk’ category
While there are factors that can increase your odds of developing breast cancer (like family history), it’s estimated that three quarters of women diagnosed are not in the high-risk category.
Breast cancer can happen to any woman, of any race. Family history only accounts for five to 10% of diagnoses. And, while white South African women have the highest lifetime risk, growing numbers of African women are being diagnosed with the disease.
4. What you eat can affect your breast cancer risk
Eating and living healthily, as well as not smoking, can help reduce your chances of developing breast cancer. A high-fat diet puts you at greater risk, and while smoking hasn’t been directly linked to breast cancer, this unhealthy habit does increase your chances of other kinds of cancer (including cervical), and reduces your chances of survival if you are diagnosed with breast cancer.
Make sure you eat a diet filled with fruit and vegetables, low or medium-fat nutritious foods, and minimal amounts of animal proteins.
5. Men also develop breast cancer
For every 100 women diagnosed with the disease, one man will be diagnosed too. Sadly, because of the stigma attached to male breast cancer, men often take longer to be diagnosed as they resist seeking medical attention or talking about their symptoms.
6. Early detection is your secret weapon against breast cancer
The sooner the disease is diagnosed, the better your odds of beating it. You must learn to give yourself proper breast examinations and to do them every month, one week after your period ends. You should also go for regular gynae check-ups, which include breast exams, as well as mammograms after the age of 40.
Where to go for affordable, reliable breast check-ups
Marie Stopes offers women’s wellness check-ups that include thorough breast exams and risk screening. Find out more about our well woman packages and then book an appointment online to put your mind at ease.