In 1985 the American Cancer Society officially designated October as “National Breast Cancer Awareness Month”. Since then informative campaigns have extended all over the world. The aim is to spread awareness and educate as many people as possible on breast cancer. All in an attempt to minimise the number of victims the disease takes.
Facts about Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is when the cells in the breast become uncontrollable and end up forming a cancerous lump. It is something that all women are at risk of, however, alcohol, smoking, poor diet and exposure to unhealthy chemicals (like what could come from tap water) increases the chances of cancer developing. If you have a family history of cancer, you could also be more at risk, however not having it in your family history does not mean that you yourself are invulnerable.
Age plays a role as well, with about 50% of breast cancer victims being over the age of 60. However, that does not mean that there is no risk for those of a younger age. According to Pink Drive, the youngest South African to be treated for breast cancer was a 12-year-old girl, and in Canada, a 4-year-old girl was diagnosed with a juvenile form of the disease in 2010.
It is the most common cancer in women of all races but, believe it or not, some men are also at risk. For the simple reason that men also have an armpit, breast tissue and muscle, and nipples.
So although some are more at risk than others no one is immune, regardless of age, sex or health history. And the best way to stay safe and increase the chances of survival is with early detection. Making regular self-examinations and checkups a must for all.
How to Check
Lorraine Govender, the National Manager for CANSA, says to be “ …aware of any changes or irregularities, get to know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and go for regular breast screenings. It’s always good to practise self-care which includes making personal health a priority.”
Regular examinations and mammograms are key to early detection and recovery. About 90% of patients who started treatment in the early stages surviving to live many more years after their diagnosis.
Self-Examination Every Month
Breast self-examination should be done at least once a month. For women, it is ideal for it to be at the same time of the month, following the menstrual cycle.
While examining, bear in mind that the breast starts at the collarbone and runs down and all the way to about mid-way through your side.
How to do it:
- Stand in front of a mirror and hold your arms above your head. The examination should be done while in a stretched-out position.
- Look to check that in general there are no obvious changes between the two sides.
- Now, keeping one hand behind your head, start to feel the stretched side using the flat surface of your other hands’ fingers. Keeping the surface flat against your body as you feel. You may apply some cream or oil to make the hand glide more easily over the skin.
- Start in the armpit, then move your hand in a figure of six around the entire breast, until you reach the nipple.
- Starting at the armpit again, move your hand from top to bottom, feeling across the entire breast.
- Last time, go back to the armpit and move your hand from side to side, feeling down the entire breast.
- Finally, check for any nipple discharge (aside from breastmilk if you are breastfeeding).
What to Check for:
- Swelling of the glands in the armpit.
- Changes in the skin of the breast (eg. new dimpling, indentation or colouration)
- Changes in the size of the breast (eg. one breast becoming larger or lower than the other)
- Nipples changes (eg. nipples sit at different levels or nipple retraction)
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk.
No one is the same and any apparent lumps or changes are likely to be different from what others may find. Not all lumps are cancerous, so should you find one, don’t panic. But have it seen to by a health practitioner as soon as possible.
Clinical Breast Examination
A clinical breast examination is advised to be done at least once per year. Not too different from a self-examination, this is when a health practitioner performs a visual and manual examination of the entire breast.
According to the National Department of Health’s Breast Cancer Control Policy, women are entitled to an annual clinical breast examination at any primary health care facility.
A mammogram is a form of x-ray which detects lumps in the breast. They do not prevent breast cancer, however, they allow for the earliest detection possible, greatly increasing the chances of survival. Annual mammograms are highly recommended.
Above all, listen to your body. Even if you don’t detect any lumps, but you feel odd, have it checked out. One survivor specifically states “Don’t ignore your body, if something feels off, no matter how insignificant, like excessive hair fall, nail discolouration, tiredness – this is your body warning you that something is wrong.”
How you can Support Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Wrap a tree
CANSA offers a few fundraising events and projects. One of these is wrap tree, where you can purchase pink fabric from CANSA and wrap trees in your community or home with pink. You can also support this movement by embracing #doekwithadifference.
Also a CANSA fundraiser, this event is partly to celebrate its 90th Anniversary. Four virtual events will take place on the 30th October 2021, one in Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Durban and Paarl. You can join one of the events online, or you can host your own cuppa for CANSA tea. There will be prizes, goodie bags and a live-streamed broadcast with entertainment. The theme this year is “Live, Love, Laugh”.
Then there are some other events, viewable on the Pink Drive website, such as:
- 15 October: Neon Night Run at Lydenburg High School, Mpumalanga.
- 16 October: Dancethon at the Bmx club grounds, Queensburgh.
- 23 October: Aqua Aerobics at the Cradlestone mall, Krugersdorp.
- 29 October: High Coffee at the Protea Hotel by Marriott, Sandton.
- 30 October: Harley pink bike ride at Harley Davidson, Umhlanga.