Although the month of October is characterised by the observance of many important events, the most popular observance is Breast Cancer Awareness. This observation is significant due to the great need to raise awareness about breast cancer and its prevalence, the importance of early detection, as well as to reduce the stigma of breast cancer through education on symptoms and treatment.
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers, especially amongst women, where new cases increase on an annual basis, globally. Although the occurrence of breast cancer is most prevalent amongst women, it does not discriminate in regard to gender, as men are also susceptible to breast cancer. In both men and women, early detection is one of the best determinants towards effective treatment.
Breast cancer also does not discriminate between the nationality or the economic status of people. This is why annually there are national Breast Cancer Awareness drives, headed by both public and private healthcare structures.
Although breast cancer is sometimes detected after the appearance of symptoms, many who have been diagnosed with breast cancer have had no symptoms. It is for this reason that regular breast cancer screenings are so important. Screenings are a reliable method for early detection. When found early, while it is small and has not yet spread, breast cancer is easier to treat successfully. This also improves the reduction in pain and suffering, as well as significantly decreases the associated loss of life.
Symptoms of breast cancer include:
The main risk factors that increase the chances of getting breast cancer, in both men and women, have been noted as:
It is important to note that having or being exposed to the abovementioned risk factors does not mean that one will definitely get breast cancer, as some of the signs and symptoms noted above may also be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. It is, therefore, important to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
The risk of breast cancer can further be reduced by managing the risk factors, coupled with regular screening, which opens the way for early detection/diagnosis and treatment.
Breast cancer can be detected through a variety of examinations such as:
Men and women need to examine their breasts and underarms regularly, every month, in order to check for any changes to their breasts. Self-examination can help detect cysts or other benign breast problems between check-ups. If you notice any changes in your breast during self-exams, let your doctor know.
A Clinical Breast Examination (CBE) is a visual and manual examination of the entire breast by a medical professional. During the examination the professional looks and feels for any changes in the breast’s size or shape. The examiner also looks for changes in the skin of the breasts and nipples. It is advisable to have a CBE as part of your annual medical check-up.
Mammograms are a special x-ray to detect and diagnose breast disease, including a tumour that is not yet large enough to be felt. Mammography is often more accurate in men than women, since men do not have dense breasts or other common breast changes that might interfere with the test. The results of this test might suggest that a biopsy is needed to tell if the abnormal area is cancerous or not.
It is recommended that women from the age of 40 should go for an annual mammogram, for purposes of non-symptomatic breast screening, while women 55 years and older, should have a mammogram every two years.
Men with a BRCA1/2 mutation and/or those who have been diagnosed as being at a high risk for cancer should consider getting a mammogram every year, starting 10 years before the earliest known breast cancer occurrence in a male family member or at age 50 (whichever age comes first).Getting checked regularly can put your mind at ease.
The MammaPrint or genetic testing analyses the activity of certain genes in early-stage breast cancer.
If several members of your family have had breast or ovarian cancer, or one of your family members has a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 (genetic) mutation, your doctor may refer you for genetic counselling as this can increase the risk of breast cancer, high-grade prostate cancer and/or pancreatic cancer.
Breast ultrasound uses sound waves to make a computer picture of the inside of the breast. Breast ultrasound are often used to look at breast changes that are found during a mammogram or physical exam. It is useful because it can often tell the difference between fluid-filled cysts (which are unlikely to be cancer) and solid masses (which might need further testing to be sure they’re not cancer).
In someone with a breast tumour, an ultrasound can also be used to check if the lymph nodes under the arm are enlarged. If they are, an ultrasound can be used to guide a needle to take a sample (a biopsy) to look for cancer cells there and in the breast tissue. This test does not expose one to radiation.
An MRI is not regularly used to screen for breast cancer, but it may be helpful to those with a higher risk of breast cancer, especially women with dense breasts, or when a lump is found during a breast exam.
As with the screening methods, breast cancer treatment methods also vary depending on the type of cancer, the prevailing risk factors and the extent to which the cancer has spread. Breast Cancer Awareness is without a doubt invaluable in combating and treating breast cancer effectively in both men and women.
In many instances, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted or resulted in an overall neglect of the monitoring of health conditions including breast cancer. Due to the fact that many elective screening and treatment procedures have been put on hold, this has led to a substantial decline in cancer screening. This poses a major risk, as the prevalence of breast cancer has not subsided.
Many health care facilities, such as CANSA, public and private hospitals, continued providing cancer screening during the pandemic, with many safety precautions in place in order to avoid the spread of COVID-19. They also provide their services either at a minimum cost or at no cost.
The MISA Women’s Forum and Young Workers’ Forum continue to partner with health care facilities, nationally and with organizations such as CANSA, in order to raise awareness about all forms of cancer, including breast cancer. They also participate in raising funds for these organisations. The funds raised are used for:
Apart from raising awareness, MISA continues to make advances in order to help and encourage its members to live healthy balanced lives. Through the Healthy MISA Women benefit, MISA pays out R2 500 (per female member) per annum to 200 eligible members, who attend to their health by doing a mammogram or pap smear during 1 January and 31 December, based on the applicable terms and conditions of the benefit.
Further, MISA offers the Healthy MISA Member benefit where MISA pays out R2 500 per member, per annum to 200 eligible MISA members who were off sick from work for a period of two days or less from 1 January to 31 December, and who attend at least one medical examination or participated in at least one wellness campaign during the year, based on the applicable terms and conditions of the benefit.
Therefore, we encourage everyone to improve their knowledge and to undergo regular medical screening in order to be able to take the necessary preventative or timely treatment action.
Contact MISA for more information on the Healthy MISA Members and the Healthy MISA Women Benefits either by contacting Claims@misa.org.za or calling 011 476 3920.
For more information or any assistance, contact CANSA, who apart from providing additional information, can also guide you through the public health system.
Toll-free number: 0800 22 66 22