October 2019 – Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October is breast cancer awareness month and an opportunity for us to highlight the importance of knowing what your normal is. If you regularly check your breasts for lumps or abnormalities, you will know what is out of the ordinary and can quickly seek a professional opinion to ascertain whether or not you are at risk for breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the number one cancer affecting women of South Africa today, but you can lower your risk by being empowered with the right information. This will help you take full control of your own health and wellbeing.
Breast Cancer Risk Factors
Understanding what the risk factors for breast cancer are, arms you with knowledge that you can use to your advantage. If you tick the boxes on all or some of these factors, it does not mean that you are at risk, but that you could be more prone to contracting breast cancer. Risk factors include:
- Being a woman over the age of 40
- Being overweight
- Living a sedentary life without engaging in exercise
- High use of alcohol
- Being a smoker
- Having a family history of breast cancer
- Having children over 30, or not having children at all
There can always be isolated cases of cancer affecting much younger women or those who are seemingly not at risk on paper. It’s for this reason that women are encouraged to understand the warning signs, what to look for, and how to self-examine their breasts.
Recognising Warning Signs
Knowing what your normal is can save your life. Regularly look in the mirror and understand what your breasts look like, how they fall, what shape they are, where the nipples are etc. The moment something is off, you will notice it quickly and be able to take positive action.
Some of the typical warning signs related to breast cancer are as follows:
- Puckering of the skin around the breast, almost like it is shrinking in that area
- A lump in the breast or in the armpit
- Discharge from the nipple
- A change in the skin around the nipple
- Dimpling of the nipple or retraction of the nipple
- Asymmetry of the breasts (recently noticed)
- Unusual enlargement or shrinkage of a breast
- One breast unusually lower than the other
- Enlargement of glands around the breast
- Unusual swelling in the armpit
Monthly self-examinations should be done to detect any abnormalities early on. Annual check-ups should also be scheduled as a preventative measure.
Conducting monthly self-examinations will help you become familiar with your normal. They must be done on the same day of every month for consistency, and it should be 7 – 10 days after your period. If you no longer have your period, simply select a day that suits you and stick to it monthly.
Follow the steps detailed in this informative video, compliments of CANSA:
Having Annual Check-Ups
Women who don’t show any symptoms or warning signs of breast cancer should still go for regular check-ups. Women between the age of 40 and 55 should have a mammogram annually, and women over 55 should go for a mammogram every two years. If any symptoms start to show, please see a doctor immediately.