Breast cancer fact sheet

Information provided by Reach for Recovery

Incidence of cancer

BlendabilitySouth Africa is ranked 50th on the World Cancer Research Fund’s list of countries with the highest cancer prevalence rates. Prostate cancer is the number one cancer diagnosed amongst South African men followed by lung, oesophagus, colon/rectum and bladder cancer. Amongst women, the most prevalent is breast cancer followed by cervical, uterus, colorectal and oesophageal cancer.

 

WHAT IS THE INCIDENCE OF BREAST CANCER GLOBALLY?
Globally, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed form of cancer in women, and studies show that cancer mortality rates are highest for breast cancer patients.   

 

AND IN SOUTH AFRICA?
Increased breast cancer rates have been documented amongst various population groups in South Africa. Breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Registry of 2009, is diagnosed in approximately one in every thirty three (33) women in South Africa.  Breast cancer is the most common cancer in South Africa and it is increasing in incidence. It is especially concerning that large numbers of women with breast cancer are found in rural areas. The reason for this could be that access to information is limited. With increase in awareness, the fight against cancer could be won, one woman at a time.
White = 1 in 18
African = 1 in 49
Asian = 1 in 17
Coloured = 1 in 22
New cases in 2009 = 6219
Age Groups

15-19  = 4
20 – 24 = 17
25 – 29 = 88
30 – 34 = 224
35 – 39 = 467
40 – 44 = 625
45 – 49 = 765
50 – 54 = 760
55 – 59 = 761
60 – 64 = 694
65 – 69 = 601
70 – 74 = 480
75 – 79 = 294
80 – 84 = 229
85+ = 135


Although the statistics above are very “old” (2009), they are the only official statistics for South Africa that we have!

 

WHAT IS THE INCIDENCE OF BREAST CANCER AMONGST YOUNGER WOMEN GLOBALLY?
Approximately 7% of women with breast cancer are diagnosed before the age of 40 years, and this disease accounts for more than 40% of all cancer in women in this age group.  

 

WHAT IS THE SURVIVAL RATE FOR BREAST CANCER PATIENTS?
According to research, 90% of women will be alive after five years if the cancer is detected early.   A mammogram detects early symptoms of breast cancer  or even pre-cancer signs that enable doctors to prevent or minimise the impact of the condition. Detecting the tumor before it is 2cm in diameter enables a 90% survival rate.


Studies have found that a woman diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer has an 88% chance of cure. Diagnosed at Stage IV, the survival rate dramatically decreases with only 15% of those diagnosed surviving for more than 5 years. Regular self-examination and mammograms play a key role in the early detection of breast cancer and high risk female consumers who have a positive family history for example, should essentially undergo the procedure once a year.

 

CAN PHYSICAL ACTIVITY REDUCE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER?
Exercise boosts the immune system and helps you to keep your weight in check. With as little as three hours of exercise per week, or about 30 minutes a day, a woman can begin to lower her risk of breast cancer. This doesn’t require going to a gym either. Power walking is more than sufficient!

 

CAN A HEALTHY DIET HELP TO PREVENT BREAST CANCER?
A nutritious, low-fat diet (30 grams or less) with plenty of fruits and green and orange vegetables can help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. A high-fat diet increases the risk because fat triggers estrogen production that can fuel tumor growth.

 

DOES SMOKING CAUSE BREAST CANCER?
Smoking is a confirmed risk factor for many types of cancer. Research done in 2012 has confirmed that smoking is a contributing risk factor for developing breast cancer. Additionally, second hand smoke is also a risk factor for cancer. So if you are a smoker, help yourself in a significant way and join a smoking cessation program to help you stop. The day you stop smoking the healing can begin and each week in which you are smoke-free, you give yourself increasing advantages for a healthier life. Smoking also directly contributes to heart and other lung diseases, too.

 

CAN DRINKING ALCOHOL INCREASE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER?
Moderation is key. One drink per day has been shown to slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. Having more than one drink per day has shown to be a more significant risk factor, and the alcohol content doesn’t matter: wine, beer or a mixed drink. Alcohol also increases estrogen in your bloodstream.

 

IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN ORAL CONTRACEPTIVES AND BREAST CANCER?
There is an increased risk of breast cancer for women who have been using birth control pills for more than five years. However due to the low amount of hormones in birth control pills today, the risk is relatively small. But if a young woman has a significant family history of breast cancer, her gynecologist may recommend taking a break for a year from the pill at the 5-year time frame then resuming again for another 5 years. Although evidence-based research data does not offer strong support for this standard of care, it has nevertheless become an increasingly common practice.

 

HOW DOES MENSTRUAL AND REPRODUCTIVE HISTORY AFFECT BREAST CANCER RISKS?
Women who began their menstrual cycles before age 12, have no biological children, or had their first child at 30 or older, or began menopause after 55 are at a higher risk. This means that research has proven that the number of menstrual cycles a woman has over time influences risk.

 

DOES BREASTFEEDING LOWER MY RISK OF BREAST CANCER?
Breastfeeding may slightly lower the risk of breast cancer.  There is evidence that breastfeeding for more than five months in total (one or more babies) can reduce a woman’s risk of breast cancer compared to women who do not breastfeed. It also shows that the longer a woman breastfeeds, the greater the protection. However, women who breastfeed still get breast cancer and many women are either unable to breastfeed or choose not to. It’s also important to remember that the three main risk factors for breast cancer – gender, increasing age and a significant family history – are ones we can do nothing about.

 

IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN HRT AND BREAST CANCER RISK?

  • Taking HRT (hormone replacement therapy) after the age of 50 is associated with a small increased risk of developing breast cancer. The type you take and how long you take it for may affect the risk, and the risk also reduces over time once you stop taking HRT.
  • Combined HRT (oestrogen and progestogen) accounts for six extra cases of breast cancer in every 1,000 women who take it for five years between the ages of 50 and 59. There appears to be no increased risk if it’s taken for less than three years. Oestrogen-only HRT has a lower risk than combined HRT.
  • Having a risk factor doesn’t mean that someone will develop breast cancer. And even if a risk factor is identified in someone with breast cancer, there’s no way of proving that this was the cause.

 

WILL TAKING THE CONTRACEPTIVE PILL INCREASE MY RISK OF BREAST CANCER?

  • Many studies have looked at whether taking the oral contraceptive pill increases the risk of developing breast cancer. These have produced conflicting results, with some finding an increased risk and others not.
  • Experts agree that any increase in risk is likely to be small and only applies when you are taking the pill.
  • Younger women are more likely to be taking the pill, and breast cancer is much less common in younger women, with more than 8 out of 10 cases occurring in women who have been through the menopause.
  • The oral contraceptive pill is an effective way of preventing an unwanted pregnancy. If you have concerns about taking it, talk to your GP.

 

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I DO A BREAST SELF-EXAM (BSE)?

  • Give yourself a breast self-exam once a month. Look for any changes in breast tissue, such as changes in size, feeling a palpable lump, dimpling or puckering of the breast, inversion of the nipple, redness or scaliness of the breast skin, redness or scaliness of the nipple/areola area, or discharge of secretions from the nipple.
  • If you discover a persistent lump in your breast or any changes, it is very important that you see a physician immediately. Though 8 out of 10 lumps are benign, all require evaluation to confirm that they are not cancerous.

 

WHAT KIND OF IMPACT DOES STRESS HAVE ON BREAST CANCER?
In 2012, some research studies have shown that factors such as traumatic events and losses can alter immune system functions, and when immune functions are altered cancer cells may have an opportunity to get themselves established within one’s body. What has been shown is that it is not the fact that a major life crisis has occurred but instead how the individual reacted to this event and coped (or didn’t cope). Therefore, identifying ways to keep your stress level in check is wise.

 

AFTER A MASTECTOMY, CAN I HAVE MY BREAST RECONSTRUCTED?

  • Yes, today most mastectomy patients can have breast reconstruction. Age is not a factor in determining whether a woman can have reconstructive surgery, nor is the type of mastectomy or the placement of the mastectomy scar. Women who have had radical mastectomies (removal of the breast and chest wall muscles) or modified radical mastectomies (removal of the breast with the chest muscles left intact) can have breast reconstruction.
  • Also, it does not matter how much time has elapsed since a woman’s original cancer surgery. Breast reconstruction, depending on the procedure, can be performed at the same time as the mastectomy surgery or years later.

 

CAN WOMEN WITH BREAST IMPLANTS HAVE A MAMMOGRAM?

  • Yes, they can. The mammogram (breast x-ray) may not be as clear because the implants can obscure some of the breast tissue. Therefore, other tests may also be done.
  • Women with breast implants need to tell the radiographer that they have breast implants.
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DOES A FAMILY HISTORY OF BREAST CANCER PUT SOMEONE AT A HIGHER RISK?

Although women who have a family history of breast cancer are in a higher risk group, most women who have breast cancer have no family history. Statistically only 5-10% of individuals diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history of this disease.

 

IF NO-ONE IN YOUR FAMILY HAS HAD BREAST CANCER, CAN I STILL GET IT?
Yes, you can. When women learn that breast cancer can be a genetic disease, they often think this means it is a disease that must be inherited. But that's not the case. A genetic disease is one that is caused by a genetic mutation that is either inherited or arises spontaneously. Only about 30 percent of the women who develop breast cancer have a family history of the disease. The other 70 percent have what is called a "sporadic occurrence." This means there is no known family history of the disease.

 

CAN BREAST CANCER TREATMENT AFFECT A WOMAN’S FERTILITY?

Yes, some treatments for breast cancer, like chemotherapy, can affect your ability to become pregnant.  It’s important to talk to your specialist team about fertility before you begin treatment.

 

WHAT CAUSES LYMPHOEDEMA AND HOW DOES THIS AFFECT BREAST CANCER PATIENTS?
Normal lymph drainage is sometimes interrupted or hampered as a result of damage to the lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes. This causes lymph to accumulate in the affected limb or park of the body  Damage to the lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes can be caused by the tumour or by infection, but in most cases it is caused by the treatment. Lymph nodes can be damaged or removed during breast surgery and radiotherapy in the armpit area may cause lesions.

 

WHERE CAN I FIND A BREAST CANCER SUPPORT GROUP?
Reach for Recovery is a national Breast Cancer Support Organisation.  Visit their website at www.reachforrecovery.org.za for contact details or contact the National Manager at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

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