The incidence of breast cancer among South African women is increasing and it is one of the most common cancers among women in South Africa. It is the most prevalent cancer amongst white and Asian women and the second most common cancer among black and coloured women.
The designation of October as “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” in South Africa reflects a nationwide drive by public and private healthcare structures to raise awareness of this debilitating disease across all races and class structures. We’ve put together a list of the most Frequently Asked Questions about Breast Cancer.
Can physical activity reduce the risk of breast cancer?
Exercise boosts the immune system and helps you to keep your weight in check. With as little as three hours of exercise per week, or about 30 minutes a day, a woman can begin to lower her risk of breast cancer. This doesn’t require going to a gym either. Power walking is more than sufficient!
Can a healthy diet help to prevent breast cancer?
A nutritious, low-fat diet (30 grams or less) with plenty of fruits and green and orange vegetables can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. A high-fat diet increases the risk because fat triggers estrogen production that can fuel tumor growth.
Does smoking cause breast cancer?
Smoking is a confirmed risk factor for many types of cancer. Recent research in the last year (2012) has confirmed that smoking is a contributing risk factor for developing breast cancer. Additionally, second hand smoke is also a risk factor for cancer. So if you are a smoker, help yourself in a significant way and join a smoking cessation program to help you stop. The day you stop smoking the healing can begin and each week in which you are smoke-free, you give yourself increasing advantages for a healthier life. Smoking also directly contributes to heart and other lung diseases, too.
Can drinking alcohol increase the risk of breast cancer?
Moderation is key. One drink per day has been shown to slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. Having more than one drink per day has shown to be a more significant risk factor, and the alcohol content doesn’t matter: wine, beer or a mixed drink. Alcohol also increases estrogen in your bloodstream.
Is there a link between oral contraceptives and breast cancer?
There is an increased risk of breast cancer for women who have been using birth control pills for more than five years. However due to the low amount of hormones in birth control pills today, the risk is relatively small. But if a young woman has a significant family history of breast cancer, her gynaecologist may recommend taking a break for a year from the pill at the 5-year time frame then resuming again for another 5 years. Although evidence-based research data does not offer strong support for this standard of care, it has nevertheless become an increasingly common practice.
How often should I do a breast self exam (BSE)?
Give yourself a breast self-exam once a month. Look for any changes in breast tissue, such as changes in size, feeling a palpable lump, dimpling or puckering of the breast, inversion of the nipple, redness or scaliness of the breast skin, redness or scaliness of the nipple/areola area, or discharge of secretions from the nipple.
Does a family history of breast cancer put someone at a higher risk?
Although women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. Statistically only 5-10% of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of this disease.
Are mammograms painful?
Mammography does compress the breasts and can sometimes cause slight discomfort for a very brief period of time. Patients who are sensitive should schedule their mammograms a week after their menstrual cycle so that the breasts are less tender. Your doctor may say it is fine to take acetaminophen an hour before the x-ray is performed to prevent discomfort too.
How often should I go to my doctor for a check-up?
You should have a physical every year which should include a clinical breast exam and pelvic exam. If any unusual symptoms or changes in your breasts occur before your scheduled visit, do not hesitate to see the doctor immediately.
For more information and resources or support, visit CANSA.
*Adapted from National Breast Cancer Foundation.