Breast cancer

Updated 09 November 2017

Breast cancer - the facts

The thought of breast cancer strikes terror into the hearts of most women. What are the facts surrounding the disease?

Breast cancer and cervical cancer are the two most prevalent cancers amongst South African women.

Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cells form a mass of extra tissue in the breast. The disease can be discovered by examination of the breasts, whether by yourself or a physician. Treatment depends on the stage and type of cancer, as well as on the age and health of a patient.

Most cancers begin in the breast ducts or lobules and can spread from there to the lymph nodes and from there to other organs via the blood system.

11 percent of women get breast cancer
Eleven percent of women are likely to develop breast cancer in their lives.(European figures based on a life expectancy of 76 years, but these figures are also correct for the South African female population at large). Seventy-seven percent of women who develop breast cancer are over age 50. Having a close relative with breast cancer doubles your risk. Recent research indicates that smoking, drinking, taking HRT for more than ten years and being on the Pill all increase risk slightly.

Symptoms of breast cancer include breast lumps, a change in the nipple appearance, an unusual nipple discharge, a change in the skin of the breast and a lump or a swelling under the arm.

A mammogram is a low-intensity X-ray of the breast. It can detect abnormalities before they grow large enough to be felt. This screening can detect 85 – 90 percent of breast cancers. Women over the age of 50 are advised to have a mammogram done annually. If a lump is found, a biopsy may be done to find out whether the lump is cancerous or not.

If detected early, most breast cancers can be cured. In a way, the best cure is early detection. Maintaining weight, eating a healthy low-fat diet , exercising, not smoking and breastfeeding are all thought to help prevent breast cancer.(Susan Erasmus, Health24)


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Breast cancer expert

Dr Gudgeon qualified in Birmingham, England, in 1968. She has more than 40 years experience in oncology, and in 1994 she founded her practice, Cape Breast Care, where she treats benign and malignant breast cancers. Dr Boeddinghaus obtained her qualification at UCT Medical School in 1994 and her MRCP in London in 1998. She has worked extensively in the field of oncology and has a special interest in the hormonal management of breast cancer. She now works with Dr Gudgeon at Cape Breast Care. Read more.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules