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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Here's what you need to know to reduce your breast cancer risk

by , 01 October 2013

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The international health campaign is aimed at raising awareness about breast cancer as well as promoting early detection. To help you get behind this years' Breast Cancer Awareness Month, read on to discover what you can do to reduce your breast cancer risk.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Breast Cancer Awareness Month is marked in countries across the world every October to help increase attention and support for awareness, early detection and treatment as well as palliative care of this disease.

Estimates by the health body suggest that there are about 1.38 million new cases and 458, 000 deaths from breast cancer each year.

In fact, breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in the developed and developing countries.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting South African women

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) 1 in 33 women in South Africa will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

That’s why the association stresses that “the most effective weapon against cancer is knowledge.”

So what are the symptoms of breast cancer?

According to CANSA, breast cancer may cause any of the following signs and symptoms:

  • General pain in or on any part of the breast
  • Irritated or itchy breasts
  • Presence of a lump in or near the breast or in the under-arm area
  • Thickening in or near the breast or in the under-arm area
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast
  • A dimple or puckering in the skin of the breast
  • A nipple turned inward into the breast
  • Fluid, other than breast milk, coming from the nipple, especially if it’s bloody
  • Scaly, red, or swollen skin on the breast, nipple, or areola (the dark area of skin that is around the nipple)
  • A change in breast colour
  • Changes in touch (the breast may feel hard, tender or warm)
  • Changes in the appearance of one or both nipples
  • Dimples in the breast that look like the skin of an orange (called peau d’orange)
  • Skin changes, such as swelling, redness, or other visible differences in one or both breasts.

The cancer association highlights that these signs and symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. And that’s why it’s crucial you consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

So what’s the best way to reduce your breast cancer risk?

According to CANSA, you can lower your cancer risk by following these methods:

The following can help lower the risk of breast cancer:

  • Do regular monthly breast self-examinations
  • Get screened regularly for breast cancer
  • Know your family history of breast cancer
  • Determine the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy
  • Adopt a healthy, balanced diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Quit smoking

Remember, the incidence of breast cancer among South African women is increasing rapidly. It’s definitely in your best interest to go for regular screenings to lower your breast cancer risk or the recurrence of cancer.

In addition, it’s crucial that you examine your breasts regularly and if you’re over 40, go for a mammogram (a special x-ray to detect lumps in the breast), says CANSA.

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