Breast Cancer Awareness

The lifetime risk of developing  breast cancer is nearing 1 in 10 in Western society. It makes it the most common cancer in women in the first world. On the contrary, in the black population the numbers are quite a bit lower to one in 80, making it a much less common cancer in this population […]

The lifetime risk of developing  breast cancer is nearing 1 in 10 in Western society. It makes it the most common cancer in women in the first world.

On the contrary, in the black population the numbers are quite a bit lower to one in 80, making it a much less common cancer in this population group, after cancer of the cervix , which is the most common female genital tract cancer.

This can affect women of any age group, the most common age group is between 45 and 60 years of age. Having said that, more younger women are being diagnosed in the last 20 years.

So what should a woman do in terms of breast health? Here are some general guidelines:

Firstly, there should be an awareness.

A knowledge of family history is very important, as there can be a strong genetic pattern in this disease. It is important to consult a specialist in the field if that is the case.

Secondly, breast self examination is important.

Once a month inspect and palpate the breasts, so that if a change happens, the woman will be the first one to notice . Be aware that most lumps are not cancer, but all lumps need to be examined by a doctor. A breast examination once a year by a nurse practitioner or doctor in the field is advised.

Thirdly, is to have special routine tests in form of a mammogram and ultrasound done of the breast, from age 45 onwards, every second year.

There is a lot of scepticism and negativity around this, however this is safe, and adds to the information on the breast tissue. Cancers are sometimes missed on mammogram, and it may even  occasionally lead to unnecessary investigations, however it is often a lifesaving investigation.

Once breast cancer has been diagnosed, this is not a death sentence. It depends on a lot of factors, on how and with what the cancer can be treated.

From a lumpectomy with radiotherapy, to a mastectomy, to a combination of the surgery with chemotherapy if it has spread to the lymphnodes are treatments that are offered depending on the type of cancer and the stage.

Once the cancer has been treated, anti estrogen treatment is often used for years afterwards in women who have positive estrogen receptors.

The question often asked is whether alternative treatment is available?

Complimentary treatment can certainly be used in the form of nutrition, vitamin and mineral support, even cannabis oil. However, none of these have been shown to replace the conventional approach of treatment at present.

Reconstructive surgery is another topic to be discussed with the surgeon. Usually , if wanted, this is offered at the time of the initial surgery.

The message here is to be aware, examine yourself and be examined, use the special investigations available, so that diagnosis is made as early as possible, which then makes this a curable cancer!

Dr Katrien de Haeck ( is a leading gynaecologist specialising in Vulvo-vaginal diseases in Cape Town)

 

 

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