What you need to know, and what you don’t, about breast cancer. By Helen Wallace
The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month across South Africa – a time that we try to raise awareness about this deadly disease that affects so many women and some men across the country. Over these four weeks, various dedicated organisations try to encourage people to engage in dialogue about it and make women not only more aware of the risks and warning signs but give those who come into contact with this illness hope that, while it may not be preventable, it is treatable, and that with the right treatment, there can be life after cancer.
With an estimated one in 33 women being affected by breast cancer each year in SA, there’s been an increase in information made available to us about ‘The Big C’ – from old wives’ tales to legitimate medical research. It is important to be able to tell fact from fiction so that you can stay informed and flag any irregularities early on, before they become serious.
Truth be told
Myth A diagnosis of breast cancer is essentially a death sentence.
Busted If detected soon enough, or if your body responds well to treatment, you could, in time, be cancer-free and lead a long life. This is why regular self-examinations and visits to your doctor are crucial, to ensure that any abnormalities are spotted early and that you undergo the treatment that is recommended to you by health professionals.
Myth Only people who are over 40 or have a family history of the disease run the risk of developing breast cancer.
Busted Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can affect people who are much younger and can also occur in people who have had no cancer diagnosis in their family at all. Start going for regular check-ups with your gynae and insist on a more in-depth examination if you are displaying any suspicious symptoms.
Myth Clothing, such as underwire bras, and cosmetics such as antiperspirant deodorant can cause breast cancer.
Busted Scientists have found no link between what you put on to your body and the development of cancer. It is something that some people are predisposed to; it’s in the genes and is not caused by anything superficial.
Myth Women who have breast implants are more likely to develop cancer in that area.
Busted Having breast enlargement or reduction surgery and getting implants does not increase you risk, but it might make it harder to detect, so additional scans are needed to be able to get an accurate diagnosis on the breast tissue.
Myth Breast cancer presents itself in the form of a lump, so this is how you will be able to detect it.
Busted There aren’t always lumps present in breast-cancer cases, and other changes to the area, such as inverting nipples, discharge, and swelling can also be symptoms of the disease.
See the signs
The first step to nipping cancer in the bud is to know what the symptoms are, so keep a lookout and contact your GP if you experience any of the following:
• Lumps in the breast and underarm region.
• A change in texture, such as skin dimpling in the area, and colour changes such as darkening and discolouration.
• Swelling of one or both breasts or a sudden onset of asymmetry or other differences in size or shape.
• Discharge from the nipple, either clear or bloody.
• Dry, itchy or flaking skin in the breast region that is red, irritated and swollen.
Perform regular self-examinations at home and to make an appointment with your gynaecologist once a year so that you can monitor your health.
These brave celebrities have been affected and are all the stronger for it.
• TV presenter Giuliana Rancic announced that she had breast cancer in 2011, and has since been using her experience to empower other women.
• Madiba’s daughter Zoleka Mandela has written a book detailing her battle with breast cancer and hopes that her story will inspire others.
• Stand-up comedian Wanda Sykes was shocked when she was told she had cancer, but it was early enough to not have caused any major damage. She had a double mastectomy in 2011.
• Aussie pop sensation Kylie Minogue was diagnosed when she was just 37, and says the disease taught her how strong she really is.
• When Angeline Jolie discovered that she was carrying the cancer gene, she opted for a preventative double mastectomy, a decision which had a global impact and got people talking about the disease and breast health.
Helping you heal
For more information on breast cancer, and to find out where you can get tested and how you can get involved with fundraising or creating awareness, visit Pink Drive, one of SA’s leading breast cancer foundations, at pinkdrive.co.za.