Mention of the word “cancer” normally puts people in a panic. A feeling of impending doom overcomes many. A diagnosis of cancer is not a light one and should be taken seriously. However, people should be cautious with such diagnosis as it has many implications once made.
What is cancer:
The body is made up of many cells. These cells then make up the different body parts and organs. They divide to grow, and as they age, they become abnormal and automatically die. This process is well controlled. However, if there is a problem and the division of cells becomes uncontrolled and the old abnormal cells do not die, they will become too many and form a tumour (a growth). The uncontrolled growth of this tumour can become a cancer (some tumours are benign, because they don’t cause many complications and do not spread).
This abnormal growth of cells can happen to ANY part of the body, including the breasts. In South Africa, this is the most common type of cancer. Breast cancer affects mostly women, so my focus will be on them, but a small percentage of men are also affected. Possible causes of breast cancer include genetics, hormones and one’s lifestyle (smoking, incorrect diet etc.)
Being diagnosed with breast cancer should not be viewed as an automatic death sentence. In fact, all women have the power to check if they have tumours (cancerous or not) in their breasts and seek medical attention before there is a major problem. With early diagnosis, 90% of women have good chances of being alive after five years and longer. However, due to lack of information or being afraid of being tested, women are diagnosed too late and by then the cancer has spread and it becomes difficult to treat.
This is what you can do to help yourself:
- Be Informed about the disease: with knowledge, one can take the necessary steps to test themselves and to seek help where necessary.
- Know how to examine yourself for breast tumours. It is not easy to find a breast lump if one doesn’t know how a normal breast feels like. Regular self examination often helps to detect cancer early.
- Have a mammogram: This is a special X-Ray of the breast that all women over the age of 35 must do every three years. This test can pick up early; tumours that are too small to detect by the hand, therefore decreasing the impact the illness will have on the body.
- Take action: When a lump is found or you are in doubt, don’t panic and don’t let the fear of the unknown make you stay with the lump until it is too late. Visit your nearest health care practitioner. If there is a possibility of cancer, you will be referred to a specialist or a breast clinic. At the clinic further examination and tests will be done in order to make a proper diagnosis and appropriate, together with you, take decisions for treatment.
- REMEMBER: Early detection of Breast cancer can save your life!!