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‘It won’t happen to me.’ This is the mindset of many South Africans when it comes to breast cancer. Research, however, has proven that the disease can affect anyone. This is one of the important messages spread every year during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Here are some other facts and statistics that might just change the way you think about breast cancer.
The Big C
- Every year, some 14 million people around the world hear the words: ‘You have cancer’.
- Environmental factors and lifestyle, including smoking, diet and lack of exercise are believed to be the cause of up to 90% of all cancers.
- Diet is partly responsible for at least 30-40% of all cancers.
- Worldwide, 22 of every 100 000 women will die of breast cancer every year, making it the most common cancer to affect women. In South Africa, it is estimated that more than 3 000 women die from it every year.
- 90% of people diagnosed with breast cancer survive for five years or more after being diagnosed. There is a 95% chance of successful treatment if detected early.
Who’s at risk?
- Smoking, genetics, lifestyle… these have all been blamed for causing breast cancer. In fact, the number one risk factor for breast cancer is being a woman. While there are men who’ve been diagnosed, women are 100 times more likely to get it.
- Eight out of 10 women who develop breast cancer don’t have a family history of the disease. Only 5-10% of breast cancers are thought to be hereditary. But, for women whose first-degree relatives (mothers, sisters or daughters) have breast cancer, the chances of developing it too are almost double.
- Globally, one in eight women is at risk of getting breast cancer. In the 70s, this was one in 11, but the increase has been linked to longer life expectancy and more detection. However, other factors include menopausal hormone treatment, changes in reproduction patterns and an increase in obesity. In South Africa, the lifetime risk is one in 26 for women and one in 922 for men.
- Women with dense breasts (more glandular and fibrous tissue and less fatty tissue) are six times more likely to have breast cancer and it can be harder to detect.
- Women who started menstruating early (before 12) or menopause later (after 55) have a slightly higher risk.
- Two-thirds of invasive breast cancers are found in women 55 or older. Breast cancer is more common in women over 40, but it can develop in younger people. A woman in her 30s has a one in 6 000 chance. By the time she reaches fifty, the risk increases to one in 600. While it’s less common in younger women, those who are affected before 40 usually suffer from a more aggressive type.
- Consuming more than two units of alcohol per day increases the risk of developing breast cancer by 24%.
- Women who’ve never had children, or who have them after the age of 30, are more likely to get breast cancer.
- Overweight and obese women (particularly after menopause) are at a higher risk. Dropping 5% of your body weight can reduce the risk by 20%.
- Women who suffer from stress are twice as likely to develop breast cancer than those who don’t.
Reduce the risk
- Breastfeeding for a year or more is believed to reduce the overall risk of getting breast cancer by 4,3%.
- CANSA advocates for women between 40 and 54 years old to go for a mammogram every year and for those 55 and over to go every two years. Mammograms can detect breast cancer up to two years before the tumour is large enough to be felt.
- Regular exercise (four to seven hours per week) is said to lower the risk of breast cancer. Walking at least an hour a day lowers the risk of breast cancer after menopause by 14%.
- Some 70% of breast cancers are found through self-exams. See how to do a self-exam here.
- While a healthy lifestyle can go some way in lowering your chances of getting breast cancer, for the most part, the actual cause of breast cancer in more than 70% of incidents continues to evade researchers. Anyone at any age can be affected, which is why it is important to have plans in place to protect yourself and your loved ones should you be diagnosed. Read more about Vodacom’s Life Cover.