Sheldene’s thoughts on…
October is breast cancer awareness month. Therefore October is also the month that general and plastic surgeons brace themselves for the flood of ladies in need of mastectomies and reconstructive surgery.
It is a testament to the success of the breast cancer awareness campaign that we experience this phenomenon, but I must ask: If we are supposed to be examining our breasts every month, why do we see such a peak this time of year? This has prompted us to start a campaign of our own, called “Titillating Tuesdays”. On the first Tuesday of every month we will encourage our Facebook fans to examine their breasts by posting a self-examination tip. Early detection is key and our aim is to empower you to develop this healthy, lifesaving habit.
Of all cancers, breast cancer is the most common one diagnosed in South African women. It constitutes more than 50% of all cancer diagnoses. According to the National Cancer Registry network, 1 in 31 South African women will get breast cancer during her lifetime.
Considering these shocking statistics it is of great concern to me that we frighten each other out of having regular mammograms. Personally, I have never found it to be painful – a dental scale and polish of the teeth is far more uncomfortable than a less than 10 min mammogram. Book your appointment in the middle of your menstrual cycle when your breasts are less tender. Again, regular self-examination will help you detect monthly changes in the tenderness of your breast tissue.
At what age should you start having mammograms? Have a baseline mammogram at 35. The radiology association of South Africa recommends that women aged 40 or older should have a mammogram every one to two years. Women between 50 and 75 should have annual mammography. Women at high risk, usually as a result of a history of breast cancer in a close family relative, should have annual mammograms and MRI starting at an age five years before the age their family member was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I am happy to report that even in the face of these statistics, we know of many, many stories with happy endings. The golden thread being that these brave ladies did not “stick their head in the sand” when they suspected there may be a lump in their breast – they acted immediately and in so doing saved their own lives.