Each October we observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month – a time to shed light on this disease and the most common form of cancer affecting South African women. According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), 1.7 million cases are diagnosed across the country each year and 16% of cancer deaths result from it. This means that one in every 26 women is at risk. While there is no way of preventing it, early detection has been proven to save lives.
In 1985, due to a joint national health and governmental initiative in the USA, October was named Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The objective of this was to educate women about breast cancer and how they could detect it early. The colour pink was chosen for the ribbon to represent this cause as it stands for courage and hope for patients and survivors as well as the charitable goodness of those who support them.
In South Africa, there is still a stigma surrounding the diagnosis of cancer, and breast cancer is not exempt. There are also many myths surrounding the disease. These include the false claims that having children means you aren’t at risk, or that you are too young or lead too healthy a lifestyle to be affected. Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate. However, if you catch it early, your chances of recovery can be as high as 93% (or higher!).
Making personal health a priority
Many people think that breast cancer is a disease that only affects women. In reality, between 1% – 3% of diagnoses are in men. They can be more severely affected due to the lack of awareness surrounding their risk of developing it.
There is also an intersection between sexual health and a diagnosis of cancer (and the recovery process). While some people experience no change in their libido, others can feel their urge drop. This can be due to several physical and psychological factors, ranging from the trauma of disease and treatment to hormonal shifts. Some people who lose their breasts feel self-conscious or like ‘less of a woman’. In these cases, people should remember that their scars are a reminder of their strength and seek out the help of a therapist or doctor to work through their feelings or treat the underlying cause.
Ace Your Exam
Engaging in regular sexual intimacy and developing good body awareness may increase the likelihood of detecting breast cancer early. But this doesn’t mean that both men and women should skip examining the breast area once a month for early detection, even if you don’t display any noticeable symptoms. Perform yours like a pro with these tips from local NGO, PinkDrive.
Step #1 Look at your breasts in a mirror to check for any changes in the size, shape and position of your nipples.
Step #2 Lift your arms in the air. Check for any distortion or dimpling of the skin in your breast area.
Step #3 Lift one breast from underneath and use the fingertips of the other hand to check for lumps or irregularities. Repeat on both sides.
Step #4 Examine each underarm area by running your fingers downwards to check for any lumps. Repeat on both sides.
How you can help
Over the years, there have been many memorable campaigns and initiatives to raise awareness during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And there are plenty of organisations – both locally and abroad – who are working to shed a light on this disease and the importance of early detection.
Want to help the cause or know someone who has been affected by breast cancer? These local NGOs are always looking for donors and volunteers to help in any way they can and can also provide much-needed resources to those who have been diagnosed. Contact them to find out how you can get help or get involved: