It is a stark fact that breast cancer is the most common of all cancers affecting women in South Africa today. We know the risks are high, so it is important and your responsibility to actively take whatever steps you can to reduce that risk.
Some risks cannot be changed:
- Being a woman is the biggest risk factor: 1 in 35 SA women will be diagnosed with breast cancer as opposed to 1 in 1066 men
- Your risk increases with age: In South Africa the statistics show that women from the age of 55 onwards have a higher risk of breast cancer. If you are a black South African women, however, statistics show that you may be at risk at an earlier age. Only with accurate incidence reporting in a population-based cancer registry will we be able to know the differences in our populations and tailor make our screening needs accordingly.
- Family history of breast cancer: i.e. If there is a first degree relative diagnosed with breast cancer. The age at which that person was diagnosed is also important.
- Genetics is responsible for about 5-10% of breast cancer.
- Personal history of breast cancer: If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer you are more likely to develop a new cancer in the other breast or in a different part of the same breast – called metastic cancer. Read more about metastic breats cancer here.
- Radiation to chest or face before you were 30 years old. The amount of risk increase depends on how old you were when you had radiation.
Some risks can be controlled:
- Being overweight: i.e. a BMI over 25. Fat cells makes estrogen and estrogen can make hormone receptor positive breast cancer develop and grow.
- Pregnancy history: Earlier pregnancy seems to offer a protective effect.
- Hormone replacement therapy: If you need to take it, try to keep the length of time you are on HRT as short as possible. Always discuss risk factors with your doctor.
- Healthy lifestyle: Ear healthily, don’t smoke or consume alcohol – and exercise regularly.