Breast Cancer – Be aware. Be vigilant.

With October coming to an end, it’s the last little indication that the pink campaign has come to a close and that a whole month dedicated to creating awareness for breast cancer is finished, but just because the time dedicated to create awareness is over, it doesn’t mean the education, help, support and then some more awareness should stop.

In honour of breast cancer awareness month here are some basic nee- to-knows about this specific cancer, what to do, how to do it, where to do it and just an overall view of all of it.

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Why Should I get tested?

The most common form of cancer in women in breast cancer and knowing the facts beforehand could save your life. The key is early detection and treatment and finding the problem when it is actually still a tiny problem. After lung cancer – breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women and 1 in every 27 female in South Africa is diagnosed with breast cancer with 70% of these women having no family history of the illness. These statistics are scary but they are a reality and a fact – put there to inform us as women on just how serious this is.

What am I looking for?

Sometimes in the beginning stages of breast cancer there can actually be no symptoms but as the cancer grows it becomes more apparent and easier to find. Some warning signs to look out for are:

  • Lumps in your breast or close to your underarms the size of a marble.
  • Abnormal breast size or shapes when comparing your breasts to one another.
  • Tender nipples, fluids coming through, or if your nipple seems to be inverted.
  • Ridges or pits in the skin of your breasts that almost resemble that of an orange peel.

Mammograms?

A mammogram is basically an ex-ray of your breast used to find or diagnose cancer cells. The important thing to remember about mammograms is that it uses radiation which is why this procedure is usually done on women and men 40 years and older. The reason being is because radiation is harmful and divides young cells faster. Our breasts are only fully developed after we’ve had children or if not after the age of 40.

Instead of a mammogram an ultrasound examination is conducted if you don’t fall under the specific age category and after that further steps are taken according to your doctors’ advice or instructions.

It is important to do a monthly self-examination as well, just to be sure you have healthy breast. Doctors say that when you’re comfortable with the way your breasts feel you’ll notice an abnormality much sooner rather than later, so become familiar with the way your breasts feel.

If they find something?

If an abnormality is found during your mammogram or ultrasound screening you’ll most probably receive a “call back”. A biopsy will then be conducted by which a needle is inserted into a specific area of your breast. The samples or cells taken from your breast are then sent to a laboratory for further testing. It might be a bit of a waiting game and your results will take about a week and two days, depending on the urgency. After this time, your doctor will tell you if the tumour is aggressive or simply just a still tumour. According to him you will be recommended to a specialist. Remember that you can always get a second opinion if you wish to do so, with something this invasive and personal it makes sense just be sure for your peace of mind.

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What are my options?

Your doctor along with an oncologist will determine the best possible approach according to the state of the tumour its characteristics and stage of the cancer. There are a number of options to consider:

Surgery: This is the most common approach taken when the cancer is identified at an early stage.  After that a view radiation session will most likely follow to eliminate any remaining cancer cells. Sometimes women receive reconstructive surgery after the whole procedure.

Radiation therapy:  Is a procedure where high radiation ex-rays are used to shrink tumours, this is usually done before or after a surgery.

Chemo therapy:  Consists of a mixture of specially formulated drugs that kill cancer cells. It is usually given in the form of pills and through injection.

Hormonal therapy: Some forms of breast cancer rely on the body’s hormones for growth, if this should be the case your doctor will recommend this specific therapy which basically means decreasing your body’s ability to produce certain hormones or block hormones from reaching cancer cells, cutting off the tumours life support so to speak.

Biologic therapy: Often used hand in hand with chemo and radiation therapy biologic therapy boosts the body’s immune system to fight off infections and cancer.

Tips from CANCA

  • Use a facility that specializes in mammography, this way you’ll know you are getting the best treatment possible. Your house doctor should be able to refer you to a quality centre but most hospitals in your vicinity know the procedure by heart.
  • Wear appropriate clothing like a pair of pants or a skirt so that it’s easy to just remove your blouse.
  • Avoid going the week before you have your period as breast can be tender or swollen during that time – making the procedure uncomfortable.
  • Always ask questions and discuss the breast issues you have with the radiographer who is doing the mammogram. Describing your medical history and prior surgeries.

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How to get involved.

Throughout South Africa there has been a whole sea of initiatives surrounding breast cancer in particular. Rallies, events and charities have all been hosted in the name of breast cancer like the “Do it in pink” cycle drive which is sponsored by Pick ‘n Pay and the Cape Argus every year in March.

A very popular campaign is the actual “Pink Drive” where a convoy of trucks have specifically mapped out routes all over the country, creating awareness and even conducting professional breast examinations.

CANSA and well as The Pink Drive initiative have a “Shop 4 Cancer” program, where woman can go online and buy a range of special products where some of the proceeds go toward breast cancer. charities. Companies like Woolworths and Polo have also gotten involved in  – selling exclusive products like the “Pink Pony collection” or the “Paint the town pink” with a pink Woolworths shopping bag creating awareness and raising funds.

To contribute to the cause you can also go online to www.cansa.org.za and click on the donate button or simply SMS the word “PINKDRIVE” to 40158 and donate R20 toward the Pink Drive initiative. Furthermore look out for products with the little pink ribbon on it or just simply spread the word!

Get your pink on the rest of the year and don’t just let it be left behind in October – Cancer never sleeps and neither should we.

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