Statistics from the Cancer Association of SA (Cansa) show that one in every 36 women in South Africa has breast cancer, now the most common cancer among South African women.

With this figure in mind, October has been earmarked at Breast Cancer Month with many activities planned to raise awareness around the disease.

“If detected early, there is a chance that breast cancer can be effectively treated. I want to encourage women to start getting into the habit of going for an examination,” said Health minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

In America, one in 11 women will develop cancer at some point. Most women, who are diagnosed with breast cancer, are between the ages of 50 and 70 years.

However, it is important to note that breast cancer can also occur in younger women and in some instances men.

When a breast tumor is found and treated in its early stages, a woman has a greater chance of long term survival.

The causes of breast cancer are not known, but there are important factors that place women at risk. These include:

  • being over 50;
  • having a family history of breast cancer (mother or sister);
  • if you’€™ve never had a child or had your first child after the age of 35;
  • early menstruation before the teens;
  • a high fat diet;
  • prolonged use of hormone replacement therapy with a high dosage;
  • late menopause ‘€“ after the age of 50;
  • more than two alcoholic drinks a day;
  • smoking;
  • overweight;
  • low physical activity.

Cansa advises women to get to know their breasts, their shape, size and feel. “Become familiar with your normal breast tissue and how it changes during the month.”

Women find the majority of breast lumps themselves and that is why the monthly breast self-examination is so important. It is advisable to do this examination once a month and have an examination by a health care practitioner every year.

The best time to examine your breasts is during the week after your period. That’€™s when your breasts will be softest and least tender, making a lump easier to find.

If you no longer menstruate, pick the same day of every month. This makes it easier to remember. If you take contraceptive pills or receive Hormone Replacement Therapy, check with your doctor or nurse for the best time to do the self-examination.

Anyone wanting more information on breast cancer can contact the Cansa toll-free number on 0800-226622.