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Regular screening key especially after 40

Early detection of breast cancer, even before physical symptoms develop, is key in beating breast cancer.

Men and women are potentially at risk of getting breast cancer.

Prof Jackie Smilg, Chair of the Radiological Society’s sub-speciality group, the Breast Imaging Society of South Africa (BISSA), says breast cancer is now the leading cancer in women in SA and will affect one in 28 South Africans in their lifetimes.

Any abnormality, regardless of age or family history, warrants an immediate medical consultation with a health-care professional. Many lumps may turn out to be harmless, but it is essential that all of them are checked.

But regular screening should start particularly from age 40 and continue every year until age 70, regardless of whether there are symptoms or any abnormality – early detection is the key objective.

High-risk factors of developing breast cancer include age, as chances of cancer increase as one gets older. The risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives have this disease.

Having one first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child or maternal grandmother) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk. Having two first-degree relatives increases her risk about three-fold.

Women with dense breast tissue (as identified on a mammogram) have more glandular tissue and less fatty tissue, and have a higher risk of breast cancer.

Unfortunately, dense breast tissue can also make it harder for doctors to spot problems on mammograms. Being overweight or obese, excessive alcohol use, little to no physical activity, smoking and diets high in saturated fats increase the risk of breast cancer.

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