Breast cancer

Updated 15 November 2017

Preventing breast cancer

At the moment breast cancer cannot be prevented, but it can be diagnosed much earlier than before.

At the moment breast cancer cannot be prevented, but it can be diagnosed much earlier than it could be before.

Early diagnosis is possible with routine mammography and early biopsy of suspicious lesions. The earlier cancer is found, the better the chances of a cure.

The Breast Health Foundation of South Africa advises that that women should have a baseline mammogram between the ages of 35 and 40, followed by a mammogram every year or two for women between 40 and 50 years of age. After age 50, annual mammograms are recommended.

Between 20 and 39, women should have a clinical breast examination every three years, and annually from 39 on.

The following may help prevent breast cancer:

Low fat diet: A low-fat diet (less than 20 percent fat), with plenty of fruits and vegetables, and ideal weight maintenance.

Watching for symptoms: When cancer is found and treated early, there are more treatment choices and a better chance of recovery. Talk to your doctor about symptoms to watch for, and an appropriate check-up schedule.

Self-examining breasts: Between clinical check-ups, do a monthly breast self-exam (BSE). Every woman's breasts are different, and they change with age, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, or taking oral contraceptives or other hormones. It may be normal for your breasts to feel lumpy, swollen or tender at times, such as immediately before a period or during pregnancy. By doing a monthly BSE, after age 20, you learn what is normal for your breasts, and are more likely to detect changes.

Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding may slightly decrease risk, especially if continued for 18-24 months.

Exercise: Strenuous exercise in youth might provide life-long protection. Even moderate physical activity as an adult can lower risk.

Read more:
Treating breast cancer
Risk factors for breast cancer
Diagnosing breast cancer

Sources:; Breast Health Foundation

Image: Modern mammography x-ray machine from Shutterstock


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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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