There are important steps to take to detect breast cancer early, even before physical symptoms appear, and before it has a chance to spread. This is according to Prof. Jackie Smilg, Chair of the Breast Imaging Society of South Africa (BISSA). Breast cancer is now the leading cancer in women in SA and will affect 1 in 28 South Africans in their lifetimes. This figure is even higher in urban communities in South Africa, where the incidence is as high as 1 in 8 according to National Health Laboratory statistics.
Regular Mammograms remain the best defence
The mammogram remains the gold standard for breast screening and is the foundation of early detection of breast cancer. They can often help find breast cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most likely to be successful.
“The goal of screening tests for breast cancer is to find the disease before it causes symptoms. Breast cancers found during screening exams are more likely to be smaller and still confined to the breast.,” says Prof. Smilg.
Dispelling the myths around radiation used in modern mammography
It is important to dispel the myths that the negligible doses of radiation used in modern mammography can possibly produce breast cancer or represent any danger to the body, including the thyroid gland. There is simply no scientific evidence to support this.
When should screening start?
- The RSSA/BISSA encourages all women to start regular mammography from the age of 40 and continue to do so every year until age 70, regardless of whether they have symptoms or have an abnormality – early detection is the key objective.
- Women at higher risk, usually due to a history of breast cancer in a close family relative, should have annual mammograms starting at an age five years before the age their family member was diagnosed with breast cancer or at an age of 40 years – whichever comes first.
Who is at risk of developing breast cancer?
There are certain factors that would put women in a higher risk category.
Age – The risk of breast cancer increases as one gets older, however 1 out of 8 invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45.
Family history – Breast cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives have this disease. Having one first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child or maternal grandmother) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk.
Personal history – A woman with cancer in one breast has a 3-4 times increased risk of developing a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. This is different from a recurrence (return) of the first cancer.
Dense breast tissue – Women with dense breast tissue (as identified on a mammogram) have more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue, and have a higher risk of breast cancer.
Overweight or obese women – Healthy eating and weight management is very important.
Lifestyle factors – excessive alcohol use, little to no physical activity, smoking and diets high in saturated fats increase the risk of breast cancer.
Radiation to chest before 30 years of age -radiation to the chest to treat another cancer (not breast cancer), such as Hodgkin’s disease or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, results in a higher-than-average risk of breast cancer.
Race/ethnicity – White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than African American, Hispanic, and Asian women.
Hormonal environment – Women who haven’t had a full-term pregnancy or have their first child after age 30 have a higher risk of breast cancer compared to women who gave birth before age 30. Breastfeeding can lower breast cancer risk, especially if a woman breastfeeds for longer than 1 year.
In support of Breast Health Awareness Month participating breast Imaging practices will be offering discounts for breast imaging to cash paying patients and will be donating a percentage of their income from breast imaging during October 2019 to breast-related charities.
Issued by: Teresa Settas Communications on behalf of The Radiological Society of South Africa (RSSA) and BISSA