Caring for your breast

It’€™s a quick and easy test that women can do on their own in the comfort of their homes to search for any abnormalities in their breasts. This self examination should be done five days after menstruation.

‘€œStanding in front of a mirror you lift one hand up above your head and start touching gently with the other to feel for any changes. Once you’€™ve done one breast you repeat the same procedure on the other’€, says nurse, Nompilo Mtolo.

‘€œYou rub your breast’€¦ not too soft, not too hard’€¦ enough to feel anything if there is something. It will be up to you which way you prefer and which way it will be easy for you to feel the lump. It’€™s either you go in circles like this or you go up and down like this, here’€, says Mtolo, demonstrating on the breast of a Gauteng Health Department official.

‘€œIt will be up to you. But you must make sure that you cover your whole breast’€, she continues.

The test can take less than five minutes and it must be done at a special time.

‘€œDon’€™t do it during your periods because of your hormonal changes. Definitely, if you’€™re doing it during that time you must find something. That’€™s why you must do it once a month five days after periods’€, advises Mtolo.

‘€œAnd if I feel anything?’€, asks the Gauteng Health Department official.

‘€œThen you go to the breast clinic. You are even close to Bara, it’€™s just here’€, comes the reply.

With a nervous smile, the official confesses: ‘€œI haven’€™t done my breast. I haven’€™t done it’€.  

‘€œIt’€™s everywhere we go. Professionals haven’€™t done it. Radiologists, sisters, matrons don’€™t know how to do it. But they are educating people to do it’€, is Mtolo’€™s sobering response.

‘€œThe signs to look out for during the self examination are lumps on your breast, dimples on your breast, puckering of the skin, increasing of one breast, discharge in your breast – unless you’€™re breastfeeding, you’€™re must not have a discharge on your breast’€, she educates the official.

Breast cancer is one the leading forms of cancers faced by South African women today. But there are no new reliable figures of its incidence. In 1999, the South African Cancer Registry quoted the incidence rate as 33 per 100 000 women. The incidence is growing steadily in the developing world and South Africa is no exception. The Breast Unit of Soweto’€™s Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the largest hospital in the southern hemisphere, diagnoses over 350 women with breast cancer annually.

‘€œAt the moment, on the average month, we are seeing 30 ‘€“ 35 newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer. The trend is increasing’€, says Dr Herbert Cubasch, head of the Unit.

Cubasch says although breast cancer is mostly seen in women in their 50s, younger women are now becoming at risk.

‘€œThis is an interesting observation we are doing here locally at Baragwanath and this is something that is also observed in other poorly resourced countries. Compared to the international data that breast cancer is a disease of elderly women, we are seeing a lot of young women here. Looking at our numbers, the average is about 50 years, but we see patients below 25 presenting with breast cancer. But that is a rare case. Most of the breast lumps in that age will be benign lumps’€, he says.

But no lump should be taken for granted. Every month, five days after your periods, do a self examination on your exposed breast, just like Makalauwa Masenya, who was also recently taught how to do a self breast examination, now does.

‘€œWhen you test your breast, you put your hand on the breast, moving clock-wise slowly. Don’€™t press it hard because you cannot even feel the lump, but softly (so) that you can feel something. The lump feels more of a marble, but sometimes it shows and, sometimes, you get a pimple. Any time you see the pimple, you must just report to the doctor’€.

Although women have a higher chance of developing breast cancer, men are also at risk and are advised to check their breasts as well. It’€™s estimated that 1% of all breast cancers occur in males.      

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