The incidence of breast cancer among South African women is increasing, and it is one of the most common cancers among women here.
It is the most prevalent cancer among white and Asian women, and the second most common among black and coloured women. Early detection can lead to effective treatment and a positive prognosis.
It forms in the cells of the breasts. There are two main types of breast cancer:
In rare cases, breast cancer can start in other areas of the breast.
About 90% of patients survive for many years after diagnosis when breast cancer is detected in the early stages. Regular self-examination and mammograms are important for early detection.
Mammogram. Picture: iStock
Early treatment may be more effective, leading to a reduction in pain and suffering and significant prolonging of life. Breast cancer can occur in both men and women, but it’s much more common in women.
Substantial support for breast cancer awareness and research has helped improve the screening, diagnosis and treatment.
Breast cancer survival rates have increased, and the number of deaths has been declining, largely due to earlier detection, a new personalised approach to treatment and better understanding of the disease.
It’s not clear what causes breast cancer. According to scientists breast cancer occurs when some breast cells begin growing abnormally. These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells and accumulate, forming a lump.
The cells may spread (metastasize) through your breast to your lymph nodes or other parts of your body.
Researchers have identified hormonal, lifestyle and environmental factors that may increase risk of breast cancer.
It is commonly inherited. It is estimated that about 5 to 10% of breast cancers are linked to gene mutations passed through generations of a family.
A breast cancer risk factor is anything that makes it more likely you’ll get it. But many women who develop breast cancer have no known risk factors other than simply being women.
The following factors have been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and they include:
• Ageing: Risk of breast cancer increases with age.
• A personal history of breast cancer: If you’ve had breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of developing it in the other.
• Family history: If your mother, sister or daughter was diagnosed, your risk is increased.
• Inherited genes: Certain gene mutations can be passed on.
Menopause. Picture: iStock
• Radiation exposure: Radiation treatments to the chest as a child or young adult, increase risk.
• Obesity: Being obese increases your risk of breast cancer.
• Beginning your period at a younger age: Starting menstruation before age 12 increases risk.
• Beginning menopause at an older age: If you began menopause at an older age, you’re more likely to develop breast cancer.
• Having your first child at an older age: Women who have their first child after age 30 have an increased risk.
• Having never been pregnant: Women who have never been pregnant are at greater risk.
• Postmenopausal hormone therapy: Hormone therapy medications that combine oestrogen and progesterone increase risk.
• Drinking alcohol: This increases the risk.
• Dense breasts: Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue, which can make it hard to see tumours on a mammogram. Women with dense breasts are more likely to get breast cancer.
• Taking oral contraceptives: Certain oral contraceptive pills raise breast cancer risk.
• Having not breastfed: Breastfeeding can lower risk, especially if a woman breastfeeds for longer than one year.
• Smoking: Smoking is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer.
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