Breast Cancer Awareness
by: Sr Amanda Louw (Medwell SA)
I woke up one morning and unconsciously stroked my chest; my fingers stopped on my left breast. Under my fingertip, I felt a lump. Now I was fully awake and immediately wished I was mistaken. But it’s THERE… It felt like my heart wanted to stop, and my breathing quickened. Hundreds of dark thoughts went through my head. I couldn’t focus and forced myself to think clearly, but only one thought remained: Am I now also part of the breast cancer statistics?
As I called the doctor, I prayed that a mammogram could be done the same day, so I could determine my path forward. It felt like every nerve ending was open while I sat and waited after the mammogram to see the doctor. I was unable to speak, and the tears were running down my cheeks. “You don’t have to worry; this is just a cyst” meant the world to me. I felt as if a mountain had been lifted off my shoulders, and I could breathe again.
It is October, and yes, it is pink ribbon month! Pink pamphlets shout: “Early detection saves lives.”
Sadly, we all know someone who has had breast cancer or who has succumbed to this disease. The journey of diagnosis and treatment can be daunting, and deciding what to do next is often confusing.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. Symptoms will differ from person to person. Some people do not have any signs or symptoms at all.
Some warning signs of breast cancer are:
- Any new lump in the breast or underarm.
- Swelling or thickening of a part of the breast.
- Dimpling or irritation of the breast skin.
- Redness or flaky skin in the breast or nipple area.
- Indented nipple or pain in the nipple area.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
Keep in mind that these symptoms can happen with other conditions that are not cancer too. If you experience any signs or symptoms, be sure to see your doctor right away.
Awareness and Detection
This means checking one’s breasts for cancer before there are signs or symptoms of the disease; in other words, know your breasts. All women need to be informed about the best screening options for them.
- Breast cancer screening – mammogram, biopsy, Breast MRI, or CT scan.
- Breast self-examination.
- Visits to your doctor and regular check-ups.
Although breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it can help detect breast cancer early when it is easier to treat and will result in reduced mortality. Talk to your healthcare provider about which breast cancer screening tests are right for you and when you should have them.
Getting older is one of the biggest risk factors for breast cancer in women. The longer we live, the more opportunities there are for genetic damage (mutations) in our breast tissue. And as we age, our bodies are less capable of repairing genetic damage. Most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50. While you can’t stop the aging process, you can make lifestyle choices that can keep our risk as low as possible:
- Maintaining a healthy weight includes healthy eating, physical activity, optimal sleep, and stress reduction.
- Limiting alcohol intake.
- Never smoking (or quitting if you do smoke).
- Breastfeeding your children, if possible.
Other risk factors include genetic mutations (such as BRCA1 and BRCA2), reproductive history, dense breasts, personal history of breast cancer or certain non-cancerous breast diseases, previous treatment using radiation therapy, bone mineral density, and hormonal factors. It’s important to use hormones (of whatever kind) wisely and in consultation with a physician who is up to date with women’s health. Although it is rare, men can get breast cancer too. Learn about symptoms of breast cancer in men and things that may increase your risk.
Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy. A multi-disciplinary team should accompany you on this journey. Don’t forget to join a support group of other breast cancer sufferers/warriors. Sharing experiences does make the road less scary!
For more information on the services we offer, contact Medwell SA at email@example.com or 012 347 8344 (Gauteng Regional Office) or 021 949 7588 (Cape Town Regional Office).