Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Early detection saves lives
We have all been affected by cancer in one way or another; whether it is a friend, family member, or even yourself. It is not an easy journey and any support one receives goes a long way.
According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa), breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women in South Africa, affecting 1 in 28 women. In urban communities the incidence is as high as 1 in 8, according to the National Health Laboratory statistics.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and experts are urging women to regularly self-examine and have an annual mammogram from the age of 40.
Early screening and detection of the disease dramatically improve women’s chances of survival and reduces the need for aggressive and invasive treatment
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Mompreneur Jade Wyngaardt discovered she was pregnant with twins. Her doctors told her that she had to choose between her own life and that of her unborn children.
Speaking on Strawberry Lips Pink Diaries, a campaign featuring 14 compelling stories from local celebrities, influencers, and breast cancer survivors, Wyngaardt says life has changed since beating cancer.
The two-time breast cancer survivor says her first indication that something was wrong was when she felt constant pain in her left shoulder, armpits, and chest area.
Today, she is proudly an early detection activist and has a new lease on life. “I have grown so much when I think of Jade before cancer, I think about potential unmet. The Jade that I am now is more inclined to take risks and I just want to share the joy of life with other people,” says Wyngaardt.
Early detection is key to surviving many cancers. Breast cancer has a high survival rate if caught early. In fact, the 5-year survival rate for stage 1 and 2 is, on average, above 80%.
Research shows that 95% of women with stage 1 breast cancer are cancer-free five years later. This highlights the importance of health check-ups and vigilance no matter your age – particularly in going for regular mammograms as indicated by your doctor.
Dr Dominique Stott, Liberty's chief medical officer says it's important to note that breast cancer doesn't always present itself as a lump, so it’s a good idea to have a mammogram done. “If you notice any changes to your breasts such as a lump, skin or nipple changes or discharge, whether it is painful or not, you should see your doctor immediately."
This is important if you come from a high-risk cancer family. "If members of your family have had a breast or ovarian cancer diagnosis, then your risk could be higher," Dominique warns.
Professor Jackie Smilg, chairperson of the Breast Imaging Society of South Africa (Bissa), which is a sub-speciality group of the Radiological Society of South Africa (RSSA) says, “Breast cancer affects all ages, races and socio-economic circumstances. As frightening as a cancer diagnosis is, the good news is that modern medical advances and early screening and diagnosis result in more patients surviving and beating cancer with less aggressive and invasive treatment. The need for early and accurate detection simply cannot be overemphasised.”
Regular screening is more likely to find breast cancers when they are small and still limited to the breast area – this is important for successful treatment and survival since the size and extent of the spread are the most crucial in predicting the outcome of a breast cancer diagnosis.
“Mammography, performed by radiologists, is the foundation of early detection – regular mammograms can often help find breast cancer at an early stage when treatment is most likely to be successful,” says Smilg.
As with all cancer screening, recommendations for breast cancer screening rely on a combination of factors involving evidence about the risk of the condition, the benefits and harms of screening, and the cost.
“Several other breast imaging technologies, including tomosynthesis, C-view imaging, and contrast mammography, have brought a new dimension to the fight against breast cancer. Digital tomosynthesis allows multiple levels of breast tissue to be interrogated and it is now possible to create a 2D mammogram from these tomosynthesis slices. Contrast mammography, where contrast investigates the vascularity of a lesion, is a valuable problem-solving tool,” explains Smilg.
Women at high risk, usually due to a history of breast cancer in a close relative, should have annual mammograms and MRIs starting five years before the age their family member was diagnosed with breast cancer, or from age 40, whichever comes first.