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The unseen face of breast cancer

Posted in Medshield Wellness   |   October 22nd, 2019

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among South African women. Unfortunately, the number of women affected by it is increasing. At the same time, there are people affected by it who we are not fully aware of – the unseen face of breast cancer.

Studies show that breast cancer risk factors include age (getting older); a family history of cancer; reproductive history; excessive alcohol intake; lack of physical activity; and hormone intake. The reality, though, is that even without these risk factors present, anyone can still get breast cancer.

Women aged 50 and older are at the highest risk of breast cancer, but women under 40 also get it – up to 7% of all breast cancer occurs in women under the age of 40. There is a danger in younger women of breast cancer not being detected in time, because dense breast tissue makes it harder to detect lumps. Also, breast cancer in younger women is more likely to be aggressive and not responsive to treatment.

Men are also at risk from breast cancer. Research from the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) reveals that although it is rare (accounting for an estimated 1% of cases), men can get breast cancer. It can occur at any age but is more likely in men aged 60 and older.

Another group at risk of breast cancer is transgender people getting hormone treatment. A study published in the Netherlands in May 2019 focused on a group of 2 260 adult trans women (male sex assigned at birth, female gender identity) and 1 229 adult trans men (female sex assigned at birth, male gender identity) who were taking hormone treatment.

The results showed an increased risk of breast cancer in transgender women during hormone treatment. Transgender men didn’t show the same increased risk. The results also showed that tests which detect breast cancer in cisgender people can be used to detect it in transgender people, with no need for amendments in testing.

Stay vigilant and look out for any signs and symptoms of breast cancer. These include:

  • A painless lump under the nipple or areola
  • An inverted nipple (turned inward)
  • Swelling of the breast tissue
  • A rash around the nipple
  • Discharge or bleeding from the nipple
  • A swelling or lump in the armpit

Anyone can fall victim to breast cancer, but being aware of these symptoms, and conducting tests such as a breast self-examination at home, a mammogram, an ultrasound, a biopsy (removing a sample of breast cells for testing) or a breast MRI can help with detection and getting treatment in time. Taking good care of our health is another way to mitigate risk.

Please remember to be aware and proactive, and let’s all work to decrease the incidence of breast cancer.

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