Of all the illnesses one should be concerned with, breast cancer has not been one of them for me. For the most part, I’ve had a misguided understanding of breast cancer; what it is, who it affects and how it is treated. Since there is no trace of breast cancer in my family history, I was under the impression that I was completely safe. After researching, I’ve come to realise that I had been holding on to misconceptions of the illness and took them as truth.
To my disbelief I read that breast cancer ranks high on the list of the top 10 illnesses which affect women the most (it is actually in the top 5). According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), 1 in 26 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Not only that, it is also the most common cancer which affects women, followed by cervical cancer.
Facts about breast cancer:
- Breast cancer affects women of all ages (as early as 15 years old)
- The consumption of alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer
- Women who do not have children are also at risk of getting breast cancer
- Women across all demographics are at risk of getting breast cancer
- It has 4 stages and when it gets to stage 4, it means that the cancer has spread to other surrounding tissues
- The exact causes of breast cancer are unclear but there are a number of risk factors which one needs to look out for. These include; alcohol consumption, obesity and smoking.
Some of the symptoms include, but are not limited to the following:
- A lump in the breast or armpit area
- Pain or tenderness of the breast and nipples
- A change in the shape of the nipple (especially if it sinks into the breast)
- Nipple discharge.
- Inexplainable changes in the size of breasts
- A rash on or around the nipple
- Dimpling on the breast
- Changes in texture of skin such as enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast
These are the most common signs, but they do not necessarily mean cancer and could indicate other medical conditions.
There are methods one can use to detect the symptoms of cancer:
- Breast self-examination,
- Clinical breast examination and
The aim of these methods is to detect the cancer while it is still in the early stages so that the cancerous cells can be removed before it progresses to other stages. Early detection not only assists in preventing the cancer from spreading to other tissues in the surrounding area but also that more treatment options are available. The image below shows how to do a breast self-examination
Some of the main treatment options for breast cancer include:
- Surgery: there are two types of surgery for breast cancer; a mastectomy (which is the removal of the entire breast) and the removal of just the cancerous lump (tumour), known as breast-conserving surgery.
- Radiotherapy: using high levels of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing and dividing
- Chemotherapy: using drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells or keep them from growing and dividing
- Hormone therapy: treating breast cancers that are sensitive to hormones. These are referred to as refer as oestrogen receptor positive (ER positive) and progesterone receptor positive (PR positive) cancers.
The information in this article is not meant to scare you or cause you to panic. The aim is to facilitate a conversation relating to our health as young girls. What I learnt is that cancer does not care who you are or what you do. The best option is to equip yourself with knowledge. Once you know better, you do better…and once you do better, you become better.
Ps: I am going to do a breast self-examination more regularly from now on.