Understanding Breast Cancer Awareness

Signs, Symptoms, and Prevention of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a prevalent and life-threatening disease that affects women worldwide. In South Africa, breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women, with statistics showing that 1 in 27 women is at risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, where campaigns and events are held to educate people about the disease and encourage early detection.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease that affects the breast tissue, resulting in abnormal cell growth that can invade surrounding tissue and spread to other parts of the body. The disease can affect both men and women, although it is more common in women.

Signs and Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Early detection is crucial in the successful treatment of breast cancer. It is essential to know the signs and symptoms to look out for, which include:

  • A lump or thickening in the breast or underarm area
  • Changes in the size, shape, or appearance of the breast
  • Nipple discharge or tenderness
  • Swelling, redness, or warmth in the breast

It is important to note that not all lumps are cancerous. However, if you notice any changes in your breast, it is vital to seek medical attention to rule out any underlying issues.

Breast Cancer Prevention

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent breast cancer, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. These include:

  1. Regular Screening: Women over the age of 40 should undergo regular mammograms and clinical breast exams to detect any abnormalities early.

  2. Healthy Lifestyle: Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.

  3. Limit Alcohol Intake: Drinking alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. Women should limit their alcohol intake to one drink per day or avoid it altogether.

  4. Know Your Family History: Women with a family history of breast cancer may have an increased risk of developing the disease. It is crucial to discuss this with your healthcare provider and undergo regular screenings.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Awareness Month is an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities every October to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research. The campaign aims to encourage early detection, support those affected by the disease, and reduce the stigma associated with breast cancer.

In conclusion, breast cancer awareness is crucial in the early detection and treatment of the disease. Knowing the signs and symptoms, and taking preventative measures can help reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. Breast Cancer Awareness Month provides an opportunity to raise awareness and educate people about the disease, and we encourage everyone to get involved and support the cause. Remember, early detection can save lives.

Breast Cancer Awareness

Cells are the basic building blocks that make up tissue in the body. When cells become damaged or die the body makes new cells to replace them. This process is called cell division. One cell doubles by dividing into two. Two cells become four and so on. Sometimes, the process of cell growth goes wrong and new cells form when the body doesn’t need them or old and damaged cells do not die as they should.  When this occurs, a build up of cells often forms a mass of tissue called a lump, growth, or tumour. Sometimes these can be benign (non -cancerous), but must always be checked out if they occur.

Cancer happens when the build up of cells form a malgnant (muh-LIG-nunt) tumour or growth. Malignant cells grow in an uncontrolled way and can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph system.  When these tumours form in the breast, it is called breast cancer.

How did this happen, why me?

No one knows the exact causes of breast cancer. Doctors seldom know why one woman develops breast cancer and another doesn’t, and most women who have breast cancer will never be able to pinpoint an exact cause. What we do know is that breast cancer is always caused by damage to a cell’s DNA.  Unfortunately we don’t know why or how the DNA gets damaged, it could be genetic or environmental, or both!  

Having these risk factors can increase your chances of getting breast cancer, but that does not mean that you will!  Some environmental risk factors can be avoided (like alcohol).  Most risk factors (like a family history of breast cancer) cannot be avoided.  

Genetic Risk Factors

  • Gender
    Breast cancer occurs nearly 100 times more often in women than in men.
  • Age
    Two out of three women with invasive breast cancer are diagnosed after age 55.
  • Race
    Breast cancer is diagnosed more often in Caucasian women than in women of other races.
  • Obesity
    Obesity is a risk factor for both men and women.
  • Family History and Genetic Factors
    If your mother, sister, father or child has been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, you have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the future. Your risk increases if your relative was diagnosed before the age of 50.
  • Personal Health History
    If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, you have an increased risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the other breast in the future. Also, your risk increases if abnormal breast cells have been detected before.
  • Menstrual and Reproductive History
    Early menstruation (before age 12), late menopause (after 55), having your first child at an older age, or never having given birth can also increase your risk for breast cancer.
  • Certain Genome Changes
    Mutations in certain genes, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, can increase your risk for breast cancer. This is determined through a genetic test, which you may consider taking if you have a family history of breast cancer. Individuals with these gene mutations can pass the gene mutation onto their children.
  • Dense Breast Tissue
    Having dense breast tissue can increase your risk for breast cancer and make lumps harder to detect. Several states have passed laws requiring physicians to disclose to women if their mammogram indicates that they have dense breasts so that they are aware of this risk. Be sure to ask your physician if you have dense breasts and what the implications of  having dense breasts are.

Source https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/

Environmental Risk Factors

  • Lack of Physical Activity
    A sedentary lifestyle with little physical activity can increase your risk for breast cancer.
  • Poor Diet
    A diet high in saturated fat and lacking fruits and vegetables can increase your risk for breast cancer.  
  • Being Overweight or Obese
    Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for breast cancer. Your risk is increased if you have already gone through menopause.  
  • Drinking Alcohol
    Frequent consumption of alcohol can increase your risk for breast cancer. The more alcohol you consume, the greater the risk.
  • Radiation to the Chest
    Having radiation therapy to the chest before the age of 30 can increase your risk for breast cancer.  
  • Combined Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
    Taking combined hormone replacement therapy, as prescribed for menopause, can increase your risk for breast cancer and increases the risk that the cancer will be detected at a more advanced stage.

Source https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/

Awareness ribbons colours and meanings
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Your best change against this possible desease is early detection.