Breast cancer awareness is for everyone

The world’s most prevalent cancer, breast cancer, is commonly diagnosed in older women. However, younger women below the age of 40 years should also remain vigilant and recognise the signs and symptoms of the disease, as numerous studies have suggested young women are more prone to aggressive forms of breast cancer, explain medical experts.

Studies performed in the United States of America, Brazil, Argentina and Ghana all found that women under the age of 40 years were more likely to suffer aggressive and advanced breast cancers.

“Globally, October is honoured as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Therefore, we at Novartis want to raise greater awareness of breast cancer among all South Africans,” notes Dr Darren Katzman, head of Medical Affairs. 

Notably, according to Statistics South Africa’s Cancer in South Africa report, breast cancer was the second most diagnosed cancer among women between the ages of 20 and 29 years, and 30 and 39 years respectively. Furthermore, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases’ National Cancer Registry, one in 30 South African women and one in 1 059 men are likely to develop breast cancer in their lifetimes, underscoring the prevalence of the disease in the country.

“While breast cancer is far less common among adolescents and young adults, it’s important for women of all ages, as well as men, to understand the signs and to seek early medical advice. Empower yourself with knowledge, remain vigilant to any changes or abnormalities in and around the breast area, and engage your healthcare professional if you have any concerns,” emphasises Dr Katzman. 

“The good news is that seeking treatment timeously can have a real impact on patient prognosis and treatment outcomes. Medical advancements have given new hope to thousands of patients across the world.”

Signs and symptoms to watch out for

Not all lumps are cancerous, but lumps in the breast tissue are a common sign of breast cancer. However, one should also be wary of any unusual lumps or swelling in surrounding areas such as the armpit and collarbone.

Other red flags can include persistent pain in the breast or the armpit; changes in skin texture or the appearance of a rash or rash on the breasts; developing an inverted nipple; or unusual discharge from the nipple.

“One simple technique to monitor for any symptoms is to perform a breast self-examination once a month. There are a variety of online resources available which guide the process of performing a self-examination – and by making this part of a monthly routine, one can quickly identify any unusual changes and consult a healthcare professional if needed,” says Dr Katzman. 

The importance of breast cancer screening

Breast cancer screening is another important diagnostic tool that can alert individuals and healthcare professionals to the presence of any abnormalities. Breast cancer screening is the process of checking a woman’s breasts for signs of cancer, often before she has any other symptoms. Performing this process regularly, or at least every one or two years, can help detect breast cancer at an earlier stage.

There are different types of breast cancer screening tests such as mammograms, breast MRIs and clinical breast exams. Each test has its own benefits and risks, and not all tests are suitable for every woman. The best screening option for a woman depends on her age, personal and family history, genetic factors and other risk factors.

Some of the benefits associated with breast cancer screening include:

  • Detecting breast cancer at an early stage, when it is less likely to have spread to other parts of the body.
  • Offering patients more treatment options in certain circumstances, such as breast-conserving surgery or less aggressive chemotherapy.
  • Reducing the need for more extensive surgery or more intensive treatment at a later date.

“It’s also important for patients not to go through this journey alone,” notes Dr Katzman. “Beyond seeking medical help from healthcare professionals, and receiving emotional support from friends and family, various support groups exist to help patients through this difficult time. 

“Facing a breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and isolating. Support groups offer a safe and empathetic space where participants can openly discuss their fears, hopes and uncertainties. By sharing personal journeys, members not only find comfort in realising they are not alone in their struggles, but also gain insights that only others who have walked a similar path can provide. The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to do this alone. There are many tools and support networks available,” he concludes.

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