BREAST CANCER AWARENESS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Breast cancer is a form of cancer that develops from abnormal cell growth and malignant tumors in the breast tissue. It is the most prevalent invasive cancer among women, and the second leading cause of death by cancer in women globally, following lung cancer. Although it affects men as well, it is a typically rare occurrence, but usually has more devastating results partly due to late detection of the condition.
According to the 2012 survey by The Cancer Atlas, Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 8.3% of the total estimated deaths due to breast cancer globally. The World Cancer Research Fund also reported in 2012 that Asia and Africa recorded the lowest incidences of breast cancer. However, this does not erase the fact that breast cancer remains an issue of concern in South Africa, with some statistics indicating that 1 in 29 South African women will be diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime.
Breast cancer survival is unsatisfactorily low in underprivileged regions including rural South Africa. In 2012, the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer reported that 49 out of every 100 cases result in death, which shows a high mortality rate for the disease even with low incidence rates. Lydia Troupe et al. partially attributed the high mortality rates to the unavailability of cost-effective medical services to aid early detection.
Breast cancer is a serious issue globally, which is why health advocates developed the National Breast Cancer Awareness initiative. It takes place annually in the month of October, and is a global effort to boost public knowledge, share information about the disease and campaign for better patient health care.
The pink ribbon is the most recognized symbol for breast cancer awareness. Advocates believe that creating awareness will promote early detection and treatment and result in fewer deaths as a result of the disease. Some of them include: PinkDrive and Cansa.
Causes of Breast Cancer
There are several risk factors that increase the probability of its occurrence. While some of them can be controlled by lifestyle changes, others cannot. Some risk factors in women include:
- Genetics and family history: Studies have shown that women with relatives who have developed breast cancer are more likely to develop the disease. Also, women who carry the hereditary BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are susceptible to breast cancer.
- Age: The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age, as women generally between the ages of 40 to 50 years are more likely to develop the disease.
- Personal history of the disease: Studies have shown that women who have been previously diagnosed with and recovered from the disease are more likely to develop breast cancer again.
- Breast tissue density: Women with denser breast tissue are more likely to develop breast cancer. This is partly because dense breast tissue can make tumors in the breast difficult to identify in mammograms.
- Body weight: Research has shown that obese or overweight women have a higher tendency to develop breast cancer, especially after menopause. Although the topic is still debated, some studies show that high levels of fat intake increase the risk of the disease.
- Exposure to radiation: Some studies claim that high levels of exposure to radiation, or undergoing radiation therapy for another form of cancer increases the risk of developing breast cancer later in life.
- Hormone treatments and estrogen levels: High levels of estrogen could also increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Estrogen levels could be influenced by early menstruation, length of the menstrual cycle, late age of childbirth and late menopause. Use of hormone replacement therapy and oral contraceptives (birth control pills) also increases risk of the disease.
- Lifestyle factors: Habits like excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, little to no physical exercise and diets high in fat have been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer in women.
- Occupational risks: In 2012, certain researchers reported that proximity to some carcinogens and endocrine disruptors in the work place could increase the likelihood of breast cancer in women. Some studies have also tried to suggest that working the night shift could increase the chances of breast cancer, but this is being debated and more recent findings disagree with the theory.
Although there is no sure way to prevent breast cancer, women can lower their risk by maintaining a healthy weight, good diet, regular exercise and moderate alcohol intake. Women with a higher risk of the disease (i.e. genetically predisposed) can take prescription medicine or undergo preventive surgery for breast cancer.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
There are various forms of breast cancer, some of which are invasive (i.e. grows and spreads to other areas) while others are not. The first and often most common symptom of breast cancer is a breast lump (although not all breast lumps are cancerous) or an anomalous mammogram. Other symptoms include: breast inflammation, inversion or change of nipple shape, skin dimpling, redness and nipple discharge. The symptoms vary for different forms of breast cancer, so it is advisable to report any noticeable changes to your physician immediately.
Learn more about the BRCA gene in the infographic below: