The month of October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. It also presents an opportunity to educate people and provide support for breast cancer survivors. In South Africa, breast cancer is one of the most frequent cancers found in women. It is the most prevalent cancer amongst White and Asian women and the second most common cancer among Black and Coloured women. According to statistics from the National Cancer Registry (NCR) 2016, 1 in every 27 women in South Africa will get breast cancer in their lifetime.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. Breast cancer cells usually form a tumor that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. There are different kinds of breast cancer. The kinds of breast cancer depend on which cells in the breast turn into cancer.

Stage 0: This is when cancer has been diagnosed early. It starts in the breast ducts or milk glands and stays there.

Stage 1: This stage of breast cancer is called invasive which means it has broken free to attack healthy tissue. This stage of breast cancer is categorised into two sub-stages: Stage 1A means that the tumour is 2cm or smaller. Stage 2A also means that the tumour is 2cm or smaller and that sometimes it can’t be seen at all in the breast.

Stage 2: 2A and 2B are the two substages of stage 2 cancer. 2A means that the tumour is between 2cm and 5cm in size. Stage 2B means that cancer has spread into 1 to 3 lymph nodes under one’s arms or lymph nodes around the breastbone in the chest.

Stage 3: At this stage, the cancer cells have usually not spread to more distant sites in the body, but they are present in several axillary underarm lymph nodes. The tumor may also be large at this stage, possibly extending to the chest wall or the skin of the breast.

Stage 4: This stage of Breast Cancer is also known as metastatic breast cancer and it means that the cancer has spread throughout the body. This includes areas and organs such as one’s brain, lungs, bones, liver and so on.


Signs and Symptoms of breast cancer

The most common sign and symptom of breast cancer is a palpable lump in the breast. These lumps are often not painful but other signs may include bloody nipple discharge, changes in the appearance of the skin of the breast or surrounding skin and palpable lymph nodes in the axilla area directly beneath the joint of the shoulder.

Early detection and self-examination is vital

The early detection of Breast cancer is one of the most important undertakings to successfully treat the disease. It is crucial for women to do monthly breast self-examination two days after their menstruation. Women who are over the age of 45 need to do regular mammograms. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that can detect breast cancer up to two years before the tumor can be felt by you or your doctor. If you have a family history of breast cancer, consider talking to your doctor about developing a breast-screening program. A simple monthly breast self-exam is suggested to check your own breasts for lumps or anything that seems out of the ordinary.

Photo: Mayo Foundation

Who’s at risk of Breast Cancer?

Every woman is potentially at risk of getting Breast cancer. However, there are certain factors that would put women in a higher risk category. The risk of Breast Cancer increases when women as women grow older. The family history of Breast Cancer is a higher risk among women whose relatives have this disease. Being overweight can also increase the risk of Breast Cancer.


Breast Cancer is treatable when it is detected early, but for many women chances of survival have decreased due to the length of time it takes to receive a diagnosis. Surgery is usually the first step in extracting the tumour. An operation called lumpectomy removes the part of the breast that has cancer which is sometimes referred to as breast-conserving surgery. In a mastectomy operation, doctors usually remove the whole breast. Breast Cancer treatment varies according to its stages and symptoms.

The Pink Ribbon

The pink ribbon is the symbol for Breast Cancer awareness, which is used as a concept brand. It combines the fear of cancer with the hope for successful treatment and encourages people to buy or wear a pink ribbon to demonstrate their support and increase awareness of the brand.

Photo: Fourwaysreview

It is imperative that people do screening for Breast Cancer; it affects not only women, men as well they get diagnosed with Breast Cancer. The aim of screening is to detect cancers early which are then easier to treat than later-stage cancers with the chance of survival being much higher. It is also important that we educate each other about Breast Cancer that will assist to fight the surrounding stigma.

Organisations like the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) provide a breast cancer counselling service. You can speak to a counsellor at any local CANSA Care Centre or call their helpdesk on 0800 22 6622 to make an appointment for counselling, or email them at


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