Breast cancer

Updated 09 November 2017

Breast cancer - what you should know

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer affecting women in South Africa. It can strike anyone, but two thirds of cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50.

Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer affecting women in South Africa. While the disease can affect women of any age, two thirds of cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50.

The early detection of a tumour is very important. Through knowledge and awareness we increase the likelihood of beating this disease. One of the best ways of ensuring early detection is by self-examination.

Self examination
It is important to ask your doctor to demonstrate how to perform an effective breast self-examination. A woman should examine her breasts at least once a month in order to really get to know her own breasts and thus be able to detect any changes as early as possible.

The breasts should be examined at the same time every month, preferably a few days after the end of the menstrual cycle. If post-menopausal, one can perform the examination on the first or last day of the month in order to maintain a routine.

The examination itself is fairly simple. Start off by standing in front of a mirror and looking for any changes in shape, symmetry, skin texture, puckering of the skin or any discharge or bleeding. Then lift one hand and place it behind the head. Now feel through the breast using circular movements. One should also feel for any nodules or lumps under the arm. Repeat the same examination while lying on one's back. Then repeat the examination for the other breast.

In addition to self-examination, it is also good practice to have one's breasts examined by one's doctor at least once a year.

If you have any concerns or are unsure about any possible changes, speak to your doctor immediately - it is better to be reassured that all is fine, than to miss something important.

Who is at a higher risk of developing breast cancer?
The following women have a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer. Remember that this does not mean that a person with these risk factors will necessarily develop breast cancer and that there may, in fact, be other risk factors.

  • Women who have a family member (especially a mother or a sister) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer
  • Women who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer
  • Childless women or women who had their first child after the age of 35
  • Women whose menstrual cycles commenced at a very early age and women who experienced a late menopause
  • Women who follow a high fat diet

How can we fight breast cancer?

  • Examine your breasts regularly
  • Undergo regular breast and physical medical examinations
  • Contact one's doctor immediately should one detect any change in your breast, experience any breast discharge or bleeding or have any other concerns
  • Speak to one's doctor about mammograms
  • Follow a healthy balanced diet, maintain a regular exercise programme

(Information from MediClinic, October 2005)


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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.

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