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THE IMPORTANCE OF BREASTHEALTH All Year Round Author: Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) Every year, a staggering 1.7 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer globally. This makes breast cancer the most common among women. Apart from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast is the prevalent cancer affecting women in South Africa with a lifetime risk of 1 in 27, according to the 2019 National Cancer Registry (NCR). There is, however, a growing concern that most women present with late-stage cancers, which makes for a difficult prognosis.Lorraine Govender, National Manager: Health Promotion at the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), says, “CANSA plays an active role in educating women (and men) about the key role they can play in taking ownership of their health by regularly getting checked throughout the year and not waiting for a certain time – such as October when the awareness around breast cancer and breast health is more visible. We urge women to focus on their breast health by conducting monthly self-examination of breasts. Research has shown that a regular Breast Self-Examination (BSE), plays an important role in discovering breast cancer, compared to finding a breast lump by chance. We also encourage women not to skip their regular, routine, check-ups.”
While not all breast lumps indicate cancer, they should be investigated. It’s vital to educate yourself and get to know the warning signs and symptoms, which can also include: puckering of the skin of the breast, a lump in the breast or armpit, a change in skin around the nipple or nipple discharge, dimpling of the nipple or nipple retraction, unusual increase or shrinkage in the size of the breast or sudden asymmetry of the breasts, one breast lower than the other, enlargement of the glands or unusual swelling in the armpit. It's of utmost importance that women experiencing any breast cancer symptoms seek medical attention sooner than later, as this can lead to an early-stage diagnosis that results in better breast cancer treatment and survival. Professor Jennifer Moodley, Director Cancer Research Initiative at the Faculty of Health Sciences – University of Cape Town (UCT) – and CANSA funded researcher, says in her study, Pathways to breast cancer diagnosis and care, that “Studies have shown that time to a cancer diagnosis may be influenced by several factors including women's knowledge and awareness of cancer symptoms, whether women see themselves as being at risk for breast cancer, barriers in the health system, knowledge and attitude of health providers, and psychological, and socio-cultural barriers to health care”. As part of CANSA’s dedication to fighting cancer, and promotion of early detection, it offers Clinical Breast Examinations (CBE), which are physical and visual examinations of the breast by trained, professional nurses, at CANSA Care Centres to detect any irregularities. Patients with medical aid benefits can claim from their medical aids once they have paid for the screening. Women are entitled to an annual clinical breast examination when visiting primary health care centres (according to the National Department of Health’s Breast Cancer Control Policy). The CANSA website also has valuable resources available, including a step-by-step guide on how to perform a breast self-examination – www.cansa.org.za
A mammogram (a special x-ray to detect lumps in the breast), does not prevent breast cancer, however, can save lives by finding breast cancer as early as possible. Women from the age of 40 should go for an annual mammogram, for purposes of non-symptomatic breast screening. Women 55 years and older, should have a mammogram every two years – or if they choose, continue with an annual mammogram. Women can be screened at public hospital breast imaging units. Or alternately, the Radiological Society of SA (RSSA) website (https://www.rssa.co.za/radiology-practices-in-sa/), can be accessed to see which practices offer breast imaging services and contacted for a booking. A doctor's referral letter is not usually required for screening services. Any issues regarding bookings with a private practice, please contact email@example.com for assistance. CANSA has a wide variety of support offerings for patients such as support groups, online support resources, and free Tele Counselling in seven languages to cancer patients, caregivers and loved ones. An appointment can be made on 0800 22 66 22 or email firstname.lastname@example.org Furthermore, Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) patients can join a specialised online support programme called iSurvivor Metastatic Breast Cancer, which is aimed at assisting and helping patients with the challenges they face. Or sign up for CANSA’s MBC WhatsApp support group run by a social worker who is a breast cancer survivor. To join, please mail email@example.com CANSA also provides breast prostheses at affordable rates for those who had to undergo a mastectomy/lumpectomy and offer advice to help cope with the side effects of cancer treatment. For more information about CANSA’s services, or to book an appointment for a clinical breast screening, contact your nearest CANSA Care Centre or the CANSA Help Desk on 0800 22 66 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.cansa.org.za