Breast Cancer Awareness: The Importance of Early Detection
Breast cancer is a disease in which the cells in the breast proliferate uncontrollably. There are various types of breast cancer. The type of breast cancer is determined by which cells in the breast develop into cancer. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is celebrated in October each year to raise awareness about the devastating effects of breast cancer. Public education is one aspect of raising awareness. Breast Cancer Awareness Month aims to educate people about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer as well as ways to prevent it, such as how to perform a breast self-examination, how to get proper screening and the importance of having regular mammograms. It also emphasises new, effective treatment options and surgeries for those affected by breast cancer, including options that are still in development or are fairly unknown.

Breast Cancer Facts

  • Breast cancer is the top cancer among women worldwide and in Africa
  • According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer became the most common cancer worldwide in 2021, accounting for 12% of all new cancer cases worldwide.
  • Breast cancer does in fact affect men – but at a much lower ratio but higher mortality rate that women.
  • A man's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is approximately 1 in 833.
  • Breast cancer is more common in Black women under 45 than in white women. Black women are more likely to succumb to breast cancer than white women.
  • If a woman has a first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, her risk nearly doubles. Less than 15% of women who develop breast cancer have a family member who has been diagnosed.

Recommendations for the early detection of breast cancer

  • Regular breast self-examinations and regular mammograms are key to early detection
  • Early breast cancer detection can lead to effective treatment and a positive prognosis. About 90% of patients survive for many years after a diagnosis when breast cancer is detected at the early stages.

 #1: Mammograms

A mammogram or mammography examination is an X-ray image of the breast. It is used as a tool to detect early breast changes and may often discover abnormalities which could lead to the early detection of breast cancer before any physical symptoms arise. This can assist in less invasive treatments like a mastectomy (to surgically remove the breast) and chemotherapy. Patients also have a better chance of survival with early detection. Just like any other medical examination or X-ray, a mammographer will perform the examination and a radiologist will review the images of your mammogram by looking for signs of abnormality which include:
  • Asymmetries
  • Irregular areas of increased density
  • Skin thickening
  • Cluster of calcifications (a build-up of calcium salts in body tissue)

The difference between 2D and 3D mammograms

2D mammograms capture images of each breast from the front and side (in 2 perpendicular views), resulting in a single image of each breast. With very dense breast tissue, the 2D images can cause areas of overlapping breast tissue, making a diagnosis difficult for the radiologist. 3D mammograms (Tomosynthesis) take numerous images of each breast from a predetermined negative to positive angles, revealing each layer of breast tissue. The degrees of the angle used is determined by the thickness of the breast once compressed. The angles are also done from the front and side as per 2D but a computer combines the images to create 3D views of the breasts. Radiologists can also examine the individual layers to detect minute details and eliminate overlapping breast tissue that may indicate cancer.

#2: Self-examination

Performing regular breast self-examinations are crucial to being more aware of your breast health and becoming familiar with your breasts. Abnormalities can be picked up early and get the necessary treatment required for healthy breasts. Studies have shown that a breast self-examination or a breast cancer self-examination can be a beneficial factor in detecting cancer in women with a higher-than-usual risk of developing breast cancer