-- Twitter Summary card images must be at least 120x120px -->
Every woman is potentially at risk of getting breast cancer. Men can get breast cancer too! While breast cancer cannot be prevented, there are important steps to take to detect breast cancer early, even before physical symptoms appear, and before it has a chance to spread. As frightening as a cancer diagnosis is, the good news is that medical advances and early screening and diagnosis result in more women surviving and beating cancer with less aggressive and invasive treatment.
This is according to Prof. Jackie Smilg, Chair of the Radiological Society’s sub-specialty group, the Breast Imaging Society of South Africa (BISSA).
Breast cancer is now the leading cancer in women in SA and will affect 1 in 28 South Africans in their lifetimes. This figure is even higher in urban communities in South Africa, where the incidence is as high as 1 in 8 according to National Health Laboratory statistics. This insidious disease continues to be the subject of intensive educational campaigns to encourage women of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds to subscribe to early detection and diagnosis.
Regular Mammograms remain the best defence
The mammogram remains the gold standard for breast screening and is the foundation of early detection of breast cancer. Regular mammograms can often help find breast cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most likely to be successful. One of the greatest advantages of a mammogram is that it can find breast changes years before physical symptoms develop.
“The goal of screening tests for breast cancer is to find the disease before it causes symptoms. Breast cancers found during screening exams are more likely to be smaller and still confined to the breast. As with all cancer screening, recommendations for breast cancer screening rely on a combination of factors involving evidence about the risk of the condition, the benefits and harms of the actual screening, and the cost. Results from many decades of research clearly show that women who have regular mammograms are more likely to have breast cancer found early, less likely to need aggressive treatment and more likely to be cured,” says Prof Smilg.
Dispelling the myths around radiation used in modern mammography
It is important to dispel the myths that the negligible doses of radiation used in modern mammography can possibly produce breast cancer or represent any danger to the body, including the thyroid gland. There is simply no scientific evidence to support this.
“Several other breast imaging technologies such as tomosynthesis, virtual mammography and contrast mammography - have brought a new dimension to the fight against breast cancer. Digital tomosynthesis allows multiple levels of breast tissue to be interrogated and it is now possible to create a 2D mammogram (virtual mammogram) from these tomosynthesis slices. Contrast Mammography, where contrast investigates the vascularity (blood supply) of a lesion, promises to be a valuable problem-solving tool. In women with a significant family history of breast cancer or special circumstances, mammography can also be followed by ultrasound in both screening and symptomatic examinations and/or breast MRI,” explains Prof. Smilg.
“Women are often irrationally persuaded by the fear of radiation risk, which is negligible, to use other ‘imaging techniques’ such as thermography, use of light emitting devices or systems that “feel” masses. These imaging techniques are often operated by personnel with no medical training and no training in conventional breast imaging. There is no evidence that these methods have any value in the screening and detection of breast cancer when compared with mammography. They may do more harm by missing breast cancers, leading to delayed diagnosis and limited treatment options, if they are used as a substitute for mammography,” she adds.
When should screening start?
Who is at risk of developing breast cancer?
Every woman is potentially at risk of getting breast cancer. However, there are certain factors that would put women in a higher risk category. The risk factors include: