My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. So this December, (God-willing) she will be 10 years cancer free. While it terrifies me to think back to Christmas 2005, I am filled with immense gratitude that she is still with us, and that she is healthy. So many friends I know have not had the same experience.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. So let’s be aware. As someone in the direct line of breast cancer I know I need to take this stuff seriously.
Here’s some info to jog our memories this October:
Every person should know the symptoms and signs of breast cancer, and any time an abnormality is discovered, it should be investigated by a healthcare professional.
Most people who have breast cancer symptoms and signs will initially notice only one or two, and the presence of these symptoms and signs do not automatically mean that you have breast cancer.
By performing monthly breast self-exams, you will be able to more easily identify any changes in your breast. Be sure to talk to your healthcare professional if you notice anything unusual.
Facts About Breast Cancer:
- Every year, one in 29 women is diagnosed with breast cancer in South Africa.
- During the ‘80s and early ‘90s, cancer of the cervix was the leading cancer in South African females; however, breast cancer has overtaken cervical cancer.
- It is now the most common cancer in women, with the most cases in white and Asian females, then mixed-race and least common in black populations.
(Source: Discovery Health)
Once a Month:
Adult women of all ages are encouraged to perform breast self-exams at least once a month. Johns Hopkins Medical Center states,
“Forty percent of diagnosed breast cancers are detected by women who feel a lump, so establishing a regular breast self-exam is very important.”
While mammograms can help you to detect cancer before you can feel a lump, breast self-exams help you to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can alert your healthcare professional if there are any changes. Mammograms are recommended annually for women over the age of 40.
Can I Rely On Breast Self-Exams Alone To Be Sure I Am Breast Cancer Free?
Mammography can detect tumors before they can be felt, so screening is key for early detection. But when combined with regular medical care and appropriate guideline-recommended mammography, breast self-exams can help women know what is normal for them so they can report any changes to their healthcare provider.
If you find a lump, schedule an appointment with your doctor, but don’t panic — 8 out of 10 lumps are not cancerous. For additional peace of mind, call your doctor whenever you have concerns.
A Change In How The Breast Or Nipple Feels
- Nipple tenderness or a lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area
- A change in the skin texture or an enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast (some describe this as similar to an orange peel’s texture)
- A lump in the breast (It’s important to remember that all lumps should be investigated by a healthcare professional, but not all lumps are cancerous).
- Any unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast
- Dimpling anywhere on the breast
- Unexplained swelling of the breast (especially if on one side only)
- Unexplained shrinkage of the breast (especially if on one side only)
- Recent asymmetry of the breasts. (Although it is common for women to have one breast that is slightly larger than the other, if the onset of asymmetry is recent, it should be checked)
- Nipple that is turned slightly inward or inverted
- Skin of the breast, areola, or nipple that becomes scaly, red, or swollen or may have ridges or pitting resembling the skin of an orange.
Any Nipple Discharge—Particularly Clear Discharge Or Bloody Discharge.
It is also important to note that a milky discharge that is present when a woman is not breastfeeding should be checked by her doctor, although it is not linked with breast cancer.
If I have some symptoms, is it likely to be cancer?
Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer, but any breast cancer symptom you notice should be investigated as soon as it is discovered. If you have any of these symptoms, you should tell your healthcare provider so that the problem can be diagnosed and treated.
If I have no symptoms, should I assume I do not have cancer?
Although there’s no need to worry, regular screenings are always important. Your doctor can check for breast cancer before you have any noticeable symptoms. During your office visit, your doctor will ask about your personal and family medical history and perform a physical examination. In addition, your doctor may order one or more imaging tests, such as a mammogram.
How Should A Breast Self-Exam Be Performed?
1) In the Shower
Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.
2) In Front of a Mirror
Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.
Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women’s breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.
3) Lying Down
When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.
Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.
What Can I Do To Reduce My Risk Of Breast Cancer?
Although you cannot prevent cancer, some habits that can help reduce your risk are:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stay physically active
- Eat fruits and vegetables
- Do not smoke
- Limit alcohol consumption
You can find support groups in South African here.
Thank you to The National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc. and Breast Cancer Awareness South Africa for the info.