October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month; an annual month-long campaign that seeks to increase visibility and awareness for the disease. Breast Cancer awareness is vital because early detection can save lives. In South Africa, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. The cancer is most treatable when detected early, and every woman or person with breasts needs to know the symptoms and be aware of changes in their bodies, not just in October, but throughout the year.
There is no sufficient or definitive knowledge of the causes of breast cancer; hence early detection of the disease is crucial. Knowing how to perform a breast examination, knowing the symptoms, and where to go if you suspect you may have breast is essential and could save a life.
What Is The Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2020 Theme?
The Breast Cancer Awareness Month theme for 2020 is: ‘Give Hope. Save Lives.’
How can I get involved in Breast Cancer Awareness 2020?
There are various ways to get involved. Whether you’re a survivor or want to support a good cause. Bustle.com gives five ways to lend a helping hand for Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2020:
- Sign petitions for breast cancer research
- Research organisations that help breast cancer survivors instead of blindly buying breast cancer themed items, and the money doesn’t go where it’s supposed to go
- Donate to a breast cancer organisation
- Volunteer at breast cancer charities in South Africa
- Talk about breast cancer, breast examinations and family health history to your friends or social media
How can I test for breast cancer at home?
You can perform a breast cancer self-examination in the comfort of your home by following these easy steps taken from Breastcancer.org:
Start by looking at your bare breasts in the mirror with your shoulders straight and your arms on your hips.
- Check whether your breasts are their usual shape, size and colour;
- Breasts must be evenly shaped without distortion or swelling.
- Visit your doctor if there are any signs of dimpling, puckering and bulging of the skin;
- Nipple that changed position, or inverted nipple
- Redness, soreness, swelling or a rash.
Raise your arms and look for the same things listed above.
Look for any signs of fluid oozing from one or both nipples. The fluid can be:
- Yellow; or
Feel your breasts while lying down. Use your right hand to feel your left breast, and then your left hand to feel your right.
- Use a firm, smooth touch with the finger pads of your hands while keeping the fingers flat and together.
- Use a circular motion covering the breast from the bottom, side to side — from the collarbone, to the top of your abdomen, and from your armpit to your cleavage.
- You can also use an up and down approach.
- Feel all the tissue from the front to the back of your breasts.
- For the skin and tissue just beneath, use light pressure;
- Use medium pressure for tissue in the middle of your breasts;
- Use firm pressure for the deep tissue in the back.
- When you’ve reached the deep tissue, you should be able to feel down to your ribcage.
Feel your breasts while you’re standing or sitting. Most people find it easier to do this step while their skin is wet and slippery in the shower. Cover the entire breast using step 4’s guidelines.
What are the symptoms of breast cancer?
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; different bodies experience different symptoms, and although these are the common symptoms, they may not apply universally:
- New lump in the breast or underarm.
- Thickening or swelling of part of the breast.
- Irritation or dimpling of breast skin.
- Redness or flaky skin in the nipple area or the breast.
- Pulling in of the nipple or pain in the nipple area.
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk, including blood.
- Any change in the size or the shape of the breast.
- Pain in any area of the breast.
If you experience any of the above symptoms while performing a breast examination, contact your doctor or clinic.
What are the stages of breast cancer?
Breast cancer has five stages, and according to Healthline.com they are as follows:
Stage 0 breast cancer
Stage 0 is DCIS. Cancer cells in DCIS remain confined to the ducts in the breast and have not spread into nearby tissue.
Stage 1 breast cancer
Stage 1A: The primary tumour is 2 centimetres wide or less, and the lymph nodes are not affected.
Stage 1B: Cancer found in nearby lymph nodes, and either there is no tumour in the breast, or the tumour is smaller than 2 cm.
Stage 2 breast cancer
Stage 2A: The tumour is smaller than 2 cm and has spread to 1–3 nearby lymph nodes, or it’s between 2 and 5 cm and hasn’t spread to any lymph nodes.
Stage 2B: The tumour is between 2 and 5 cm and has spread to 1–3 axillary (armpit) lymph nodes, or it’s larger than 5 cm and hasn’t spread to any lymph nodes.
Stage 3 breast cancer
Cancer has spread to 4–9 axillary lymph nodes or has enlarged the internal mammary lymph nodes, and the primary tumour can be any size.
Tumours are greater than 5 cm, and cancer has spread to 1–3 axillary lymph nodes or any breastbone nodes.
Stage 3B: A tumour has invaded the chest wall or skin and may or may not have invaded up to 9 lymph nodes.
Stage 3C: Cancer found in 10 or more axillary lymph nodes, lymph nodes near the collarbone, or internal mammary nodes.
Stage 4 breast cancer
Stage 4 breast cancer can have a tumour of any size, and its cancer cells have spread to nearby and distant lymph nodes as well as distant organs.
If you want to read in-depth about the various stages, click the link below:
Breast Cancer Support Groups:
Getting a breast cancer diagnosis must be devastating, but remember that you are not alone. Here are a few support groups in South Africa that will guide you and provide the necessary support: