50 BREAST CANCER FACTS
White South African women have the highest risk with one in 12 diagnosed positive, while the lifetime risk for coloured and Asian women is one in 18 and the risk for black women is one in 49.2. “Being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a death sentence.”
Says Martha Molete, head of Communication and Advocacy at the Cancer Association of South Africa, “With all the advances in science, women today have a better chance of surviving breast cancer. But the key is finding the cancer early.”3. Breast cancer can happen to anyone.
While there are women who are at higher risk, it is estimated that three quarters of women who develop breast cancer are not in the high risk category.4. Breast cancer develops for many reasons, none of which are yet understood.
Family history is only one of them and is a relatively minor factor, being seen as significant in only five to 10% of cases5. Breast cancer is not just a white disease.
Although white women have the highest lifetime risk in South Africa, increasing numbers of African women are being diagnosed with breast cancer. Due to increased awareness, more African women are going for treatment but many are presenting themselves at clinics very late, making treatment less successful.6. Black women have a lower incidence of breast cancer, but their mortality rate is much higher.
And the disparity is even more striking in younger black women. Pre-menopausal black women are twice as likely to get basal-like breast tumours – a particularly virulent form of breast cancer – than other women, either black or white.
7. Age is the enemy.
One of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer, aside from being female, is ageing. A woman of 30 has a one in 6 000 chance of developing breast cancer, but this increases tenfold to one in 600 by the time she is 50. Unfortunately you can’t do anything to stop yourself from growing older, but you can keep an eye on the health of your breasts. One woman in eight who live to 85 will develop breast cancer.
8. While breast cancer risk rises with age, breast cancer tends to be more aggressive when it occurs in younger women.
One type of breast cancer that is especially aggressive and occurs disproportionately in younger women is inflammatory breast cancer.
9. Women who have not had children have a greater risk of breast cancer.
as those who have children late in life, for example after the age of 30.
10. Breastfeeding reduces your risk.
Breast is best not only for the health of your baby. Studies have shown that women who breastfeed their babies have a lower risk of developing breast cancer later in life.
11. Starting periods young or having a late menopause can also increase your risk.
Onset of the menstrual cycle prior to the age of 12 and menopause after 50, increases the risk of developing breast cancer. This is because high amounts of oestrogen are in your body for longer.
12. Breast cancer is a mystery.
While experts have been able to pinpoint some risk factors, these only account for about 30% of all known causes of breast cancer. The remaining 70% are an unexplained mystery.
13. Breast cancer is many diseases.
What experts once thought was one disease is actually multiple diseases. The good news is that a greater understanding of breast cancer is slowly helping medical doctors to predict who needs more and who needs less treatment.
14. The key to breast cancer survival is early detection, so examine your breasts.
The sooner breast cancer is diagnosed, the better your chances of beating it, so learn to do breast self examinations every month a week after your period.
15. You need to go for regular medical check-ups.
Go for annual medical check-ups with your doctor and ask for a breast examination.
16. The good news
“Death from breast cancer is a tragedy and going for mammograms and regular medical checkups can help detect cancers earlier,” says Dr Carol-Ann Benn, head of the Netcare Breast Care Centre of Excellence. “When breast cancer is detected early, before it invades tissues outside the breast, the survival rate is as high as 95%.”
17. Even women in their 20s and 30s should have an annual doctor’s examination.
It used to be recommended that younger women should be examined by a doctor every two or three years, but with the increase in young breast cancers an annual medical examination and ultrasound is a good idea, says Dr Benn.
18. 70% of all breast cancers are found through self exams,
but not all lumps can be detected through touch alone.
19. Screening mammograms have been shown to significantly reduce deaths from breast cancer in women aged 40 to 69.
From age 40, you need to have a mammogram every one or two years, and annually after the age of 50.
20. A biopsy can check the lump.
If a mammogram shows a lump that is concerning, you will be referred for a biopsy. A needle is used to take a sample from the lump which is sent to a lab to see if it contains cancer cells. Although scary, it’s a painless procedure.
21. Mammograms can detect breast cancer up to two years before it is large enough to be felt.
But be warned, this is not a comfortable experience! Your breast is flattened like a pancake between two plates so that X-rays can be taken of the tissue. Technique can help to make it more comfortable, so try and visit a specialist centre.
22. Breast cancer is not usually painful.
Most women are not very good about self examination and comfort themselves that a breast cancer lump would hurt, and this is not always so. Early breast cancer shows no symptoms and is not painful, which is why it’s important to self examine and have regular check-ups.
23. A lump is not the only symptom of breast cancer.
Lumps are not always bad news and maybe due to a blocked milk duct or a sebaceous cyst, but they should always be checked. Other symptoms include a change in the shape or position of the breast, puckering of the skin which can invert the nipple, a rash on the nipple or discharge from it.
24. Myth: Finding a lump in your breast means breast cancer.
The happy news is that eight out of ten lumps are benign (not cancerous.) Even so every lump should be checked by a physician immediately.
25. Fear should not keep you from checking the state of your health.
Sometimes women avoid having a medical examination because they fear what they might find. But ignorance is not bliss and neither is living in fear. Being vigilant can literally save your life.
26. Treatment can be varied.
Treatment may include surgery, such as a lumpectomy, where the lump is surgically removed, a partial mastectomy which removes part of the breast, or a radical mastectomy, which removes the breast and lymph glands under the arm. This may be accompanied by chemotherapy (anti-cancer drugs taken in pills or intravenously in a drip) or radiotherapy. Radiotherapy uses electromagnetic currents or waves to penetrate a tumour and kill its cells. Chemotherapy uses a cocktail of drugs to attack and kill tumour cells.
27. Breast cancer can be fatal.
Over 3 000 South African women die from breast cancer each year, but many survive and become role models for other women and other cancer patients.
28. Breast cancer is not your fault.
Some people believe that breast cancer is a punishment, due to witchcraft or past sexual behaviour. Cancer is no one’s fault.
29. More people are talking about breast cancer.
Twenty years ago it was taboo to talk about breast cancer. With more high profile people getting breast cancer, more people are able to talk about it and this increases awareness.
30. Know and touch your body from puberty.
In many cultures, it is still difficult to talk about your reproductive parts including your breasts, let alone touch them. We must teach our daughters and nieces to know their bodies and feel their breasts and check them every month from puberty.
31. You cannot catch breast cancer or transfer it to someone else’s body.
Breast cancer is the result of uncontrolled cell growth which starts in the breast and cannot be passed on to another person.
32. Two genes, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, have been linked to hereditary breast cancer,
and women in families that have mutations of these genes have a much higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who do not. However not all people who inherit these gene mutations will develop breast cancer.
33. Is it in your family?
Breast cancer is seen to be hereditary in only five to 10 percent of cases. To link cancer to your family, an immediate relative needs to have had it and it should be linked to more than three generations.
34. Breast cancer has plagued women for centuries.
Breast cancer is one of the oldest known cancer tumours. Even the ancient Egyptians knew that breast lumps could be dangerous and should be removed. References to breast tumours or ulcers have been recorded on papyrus which dates back to 1600 BC.
35. Myth: mammogram can cause breast cancer to spread.
No matter what you may have been told, a mammogram X-ray and the pressure of its machinery on the breast cannot cause cancer to spread.
36. A woman who exercises four hours a week reduces her risk of breast cancer.
Exercise pumps up the immune system and cuts your levels of the hormone oestrogen, which can fuel tumour growth.
37. A high-fat diet increases the risk of breast cancer
because fat also triggers the oestrogen. Fill your diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and low-fat nutritious foods.
38. Smoking increases your risk of cervical and other cancers.
Although smoking has not been directly linked to breast cancer, smoking decreases your survival chances once you have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
39. Go easy on animal protein.
Those with a diet high in animal protein have an increased risk of developing breast cancer.
40. Breast cancer is not exclusively a women’s disease.
For every 100 women with breast cancer, one man will develop the disease. Due to the stigma, it is difficult for men to talk about it or to go for medical treatment.
41. Humans are not the only mammals prone to breast cancer.
The house mouse (mus domesticus) is prone to breast cancer which is caused by infection by a mammary tumour virus.
42. Myth: there is a link between the Pill and breast cancer.
There have been many studies done on the relationship between the oral contraceptive pill use and breast cancer, but these have failed to show that there is any real link. But it is used to delay pregnancy, which increases the breast cancer risk. There is a slightly increased risk of breast cancer for women who have taken birth control pills uninterrupted for long periods, such as five to ten years.
43. Hormone Replacement Therapy.
Women who suffer greatly from the side-effects of menopause often are prescribed hormone replacement therapy. However this does increase your risk of breast cancer.
44. Women in the West are more susceptible to breast cancer.
In Western societies 60 to 70 women for every 100 000 develop breast cancer, whereas 25 for every 100 000 Asian women do so. However when Japanese or Chinese women move to the USA or Australia for example, the rate rises to that of the West within two generations. This suggests an environmental influence, such as a high fat diet or alcohol use.
45. Alcohol plays a role in increasing risk.
More than two alcohol units a day increases your risk by 24%.
46. Being overweight or obese increases your risk.
Women who are overweight have an increased risk of cancer, especially breast cancer. This is due to the possible increased levels of oestrogen in overweight women.
47. Drink lots of water and avoid alcohol.
Drink plenty of fresh water each day to help flush out toxins and limit your alcohol intake to no more than one drink a day.
48. Exercise is a winner for women getting over breast cancer.
Women who do aerobic exercise and resistance training enjoy better fitness and quality of life than their more sedentary counterparts, a new study at a Spanish University has shown. Previous studies had shown that cancer survivors can become stronger and less fatigued with aerobic exercise, but now it’s been proven that resistance training – like chest and shoulder presses, stomach crunches and leg and arm curls is very beneficial too.
49. Did you know that breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death among SA black women, after cervical cancer and is the leading cancer killer among white women.
50. Tamoxifen, the pill that can prevent breast cancer in high-risk women, does not appear to save many lives in the long run,
according to researchers from the University of California. Tamoxifen, which is the only approved drug for preventing breast cancer in women who haven’t reached menopause, blocks oestrogen which can fuel the growth of tumours in some cases. But for women at the low end of the high risk group, the side effects outweigh the benefits as it can cause blood clots and uterine cancer.