► It is the second most common cancer women can get in Zimbabwe, the highest being cervix cancer.
► The cause of breast cancer is unknown, but there are certain high risk factors that can predispose women to develop breast cancer.
► Men can get breast cancer as well as women
► Breast examination should begin at age 18 and continue throughout life
► Breast examination on those with menstrual periods should be performed 3-5 days after a period so the breasts are less sensitive and tender.
► Breast examination is important because:
○ It makes one become familiar with the usual appearance and feel of one’s breasts
○ Getting to know one’s breasts makes it easier to become aware of any changes
○ Early detection of abnormalities gives the doctor a better chance to offer effective treatment.
► Nurse counselors at the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe or health workers at your nearest health facility are always helpful in teaching you how to do breast self-examination.
► Abnormalities, both visual and physical (lumps), may not always indicate cancer. It is important for you to go to your health facility and let a specialist examine it and test to see if it is cancerous.
Questions and Answers:
► Am I at an increased risk of breast cancer?
■ You are at an increased risk if you:
○ have a female relative (mother, sister, daughter, or aunt) that has had breast cancer. The risk is even greater if said relative had breast cancer before menopause
○ are over 40 years old. However younger women can get breast cancer, but are at a much smaller risk.
○ started your menstrual periods earlier than the age of twelve or started your menopause stage older than the age of 55.
○ do not have children or if you have had children later than age 30.
○ consume a diet that is high in animal fat.
○ smoke or drink alcohol.
○ are overweight.
○ have had cancer in one breast as this predisposes the other breast to develop cancer.
► Are there ways I can help prevent or lessen the risk of breast cancer?
■ You can take some certain measures to prevent breast cancer such as:
○ changing the way you eat
• eat less animal fat
• have a diet that is high in fiber including fresh vegetables and fruit
• avoid oily, salty, and high fat dairy products and sugary foods
• reduce the consumption of fast food as they contain a lot of fat.
○ making some lifestyle changes
• exercise regularly for at least thirty minutes each session so you can avoid being overweight
• avoid smoking and drinking alcohol
• breast feed your baby rather than use a formula
○ learn to manage stress because stress can lead to an increased risk of cancer
► Can men get breast cancer?
■ Yes, men can get breast cancer. Although it is rare, men do have small amounts of breast tissue that can be subject to contracting cancer.
► What signs should I be aware of that could indicate cancer being present?
■ You should look for abnormalities on the breast such as:
○ a change in size or shape
○ dimpling on the skin over the breast or puckering
○ enlarged or darkened veins
○ a lump or thickening which could be painful or painless
○ unusual rashes
○ a skin change that looks like the peel of an orange
■ You should also look for abnormalities on the nipple such as:
○ discharge which could be but is not restricted to being blood-stained or watery
○ a rash around the nipple
○ an inverted nipple (turned in nipple)
○ a change in the position of the nipple
○ a lump or thickening on the nipple
■ The final place you can find abnormalities that signal breast cancer is the upper arm. Some of these abnormalities include swelling or lumps that can also be found in the armpit.
►How can I perform a proper breast examination on myself?
■ Here are the steps to check for visual abnormalities:
○ Stand in front of a mirror and inspect both breasts for any unusual abnormalities of the skin such as discharge, dimpling, scaling, or puckering.
○ While continuing to look in the mirror, clasp both bands behind your head. This helps identify any changes in the shape or size as the muscles contract.
○ Then, press your hands on your hips and bend towards the the mirror while pulling your shoulders and elbows forward. This pulling of the muscles helps identify any abnormalities.
○ Finally, closely look for any rashes, discharge, or scaling on the nipples.
■ Here are the steps to check for lumps (that are a sign of cancer):
○ While in the shower, lift your left arm.
○ Next, use four fingers of your right hand to gradually work from the outer edge of the breast in small circles towards the nipple. The circular motion helps identify any lumps or abnormalities.
○ Repeat process for other breast and repeat while laying down for both breasts.
■ Also, feel your armpits for any enlarged glands.
►What do I do if I find a lump/change in my breast?
■ Go to your nearest health facility. A lump does not mean you have cancer. Many lumps are not cancerous, but you still need to have it checked by a relevant specialist that will identify whether it is cancerous or not.