Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers amongst South African women, which is why October is the month for all things pink and becoming more breast aware. The good news is that there are lots of options should you detect a lump early on or if you’re concerned about your family history of cancer. Here are the need-to-knows to help you stay safe.
Do your monthly breast check
We recommend that you examine your breasts every month. The best time is just after your period and if you are no longer menstruating, a date at the beginning of each month is ideal.
If you have very large breasts, it can be difficult to do a self-examination. Luckily there are many nursing sisters at local clinics who are trained to perform these examinations and who will be happy to help you get some peace of mind.
Here’s how to do your self-examination:
- Stand in front of a mirror, looking out for any visible changes to your breasts. For example, can you see any puckering, dimpling or other changes in skin texture?
- Your nipples: Can you see any changes to the shape or texture of your nipples? Gently squeeze each nipple and look for discharge.
- Now put your hands on your hips, over your head and at your side and check for any changes.
- Raise your right arm and use your left hand to examine every part of your right breast. Move in small circles, using the pads of your index and middle fingers, working from the outside in.
- Press gently to feel for any lumps or thickenings. You can also use some body lotion to make it easier to massage the area next to your breast and under your arm.
- Now repeat the steps above with the opposite arm and breast.
- Lie flat on your back, put a pillow under your right shoulder and place your right hand behind your head. Again, gently massage and examine your breast for lumps or any other changes.
If you find a lump, don’t panic!
- Not all lumps are malignant. Certain lumps or adenomas – for example fibroadenoma – feel like a firm, smooth or rubbery lumps, are painless and move easily when touched. These are common in younger women and may be caused by reproductive hormones.
- Make an appointment with your GP, who will refer you to a general surgeon for a biopsy – removing a small piece of the lump in order to examine its cause.
- You will be referred for a mammogram or breast sonar.
- Depending on the results, your surgeon will discuss various options with you such as chemotherapy or surgery. Take some time before you make any decisions. Get a second opinion and discuss all treatment options, and ask for a referral to a plastic surgeon to discuss your reconstructive options.
- Rally support. Reach for Recovery is an organistaion that provides a wide network of support services. They can be contacted on 083 306 1941 (Cape Peninsula) or 082 357 0497 (Stellenbosch/Somerset West). Visit www.reach4recovery.org.za for more info.
When a lump isn’t bad news
Not all lumps are cancerous, which is why it’s important not to panic when you discover one. Take your time to get tested, speak to different professionals and consider next steps carefully. It’s your body and your future – only you can decide what’s best for it.
What feels like a lump can be a cyst – fluid filled lumps that develop under the skin – or an absess – when pus builds up within the breast. An abscess can develop as a result of a bacterial infection, for example in breastfeeding women when bacteria enters the breast tissue or if the milk ducts become blocked.
Book a regular mammogram
If you’re on a medical aid, there is a good chance that you will be entitled to a free annual or biannual mammogram from the age of 40. Even if you’re not, it’s a good idea to start documenting the health of your breast in case there are any changes later on. Early detection, diagnosis and treatment can make all the difference when it comes to successful recovery.
Know your family history
We all know that breast cancer can be hereditary so it’s important to know your family medical history. For example, if you’ve had one first-degree female relative (sister, mother, daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer, your risk of getting breast cancer is doubled. If two first-degree relatives have been diagnosed, your risk is five times higher than average.
A strong family history of breast cancer is linked to having an abnormal gene associated with a high risk of breast cancer, such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. If you are concerned about your family history, look into getting genetic counselling and testing from a reputable clinic such as Cape Town Genetic Counselling.
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and want to find out more about reconstructive surgery, please get in touch with us to set up a consultation with Dr Winkler.
If you want to find out more about any of our treatments, please get in touch with us to set up a consultation with Dr Winkler. She offers a range of treatments that can have you looking your best, whatever your age.
Tel: +27 (0) 87 630 0183