28 September 2022
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time dedicated to awareness, education, early detection and creating change for those affected by the disease. The pink ribbon is synonymous with this period of time, whether emblazoned on a t-shirt or clipped onto a bag. But what is the significance or history behind this iconic symbol?
Many say it all started with Charlotte Haley, the granddaughter, sister and mother of women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Haley began making peach-colored ribbons for breast cancer awareness. With each set of ribbons she made, she included a card that read: “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon,”.
But Susan G. Komen helped pink ribbons go mainstream. Although her foundation had been handing out bright pink visors to breast cancer survivors running in its Race for the Cure since late 1990, they adopted pink ribbons in a fall 1991 and soon this became a global symbol.
Keystone Medical Radiologist, Dr Ju-mei Chang, says the pink ribbon is a powerful reminder to focus on overall breast health.
P – you have the power of knowledge to understand the importance of an annual mammogram to your overall breast health.
I – stay informed about breast health and ways you can prevent breast cancer.
N – now is the time to act, don’t wait if for when you’re older. Women over the age of 40 years should go for annual mammogram. If you have a family history of breast cancer you should go earlier. Women younger than 40 years must perform regular self-examinations. Join our #ScreenHerSaveHer movement for more tips on breast cancer prevention.
K – you need the know-how of recognizing the symptoms to look out for that might indicate onset breast cancer.
Although breast cancer screening cannot prevent breast cancer, it can help detect breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat. This is the core message this Breast Cancer Awareness Month by radiology provider, Keystone Medical. Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers amongst women in South Africa and almost 1 in every 25 women are likely to be diagnosed in their lifetime. Let’s also not forget about breast cancer in men – although rare, they account for 1% of all breast cancers diagnosed. Chang says early detection will always be a determining factor.
‘Breast cancer is the most common cancer among South African women, accounting for 0.7% of all deaths on an annual basis and is on the increase. Mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms. Sadly, most women are uninformed about the need for regular breast cancer screening,’ she says.
Is there a way to ensure that you don’t contract breast cancer?
‘Some factors that can increase your chance of contracting breast cancer sadly include being a woman, as all women are at risk. Those over 40 years are more likely to be diagnosed, particularly women with a family history of breast cancer,’ she explains.
Chang says there are ways to lower the risk. She says it is a dangerous perception to assume that breast cancer can only affect older women. The risk for breast cancer increases as women grow older, however, younger women are also at risk
‘One can do a tremendous amount to reduce the risk of breast cancer. The first step is off course regular self-examination and screening, but also by abiding by a healthy lifestyle. This includes keeping a healthy weight, exercise regularly and minimize your alcohol intake.’
Chang says it is also important to stay vigilant and look out for symptoms that might indicate onset breast cancer. However, she says there are different symptoms of breast cancer and some people do not display any symptoms at all.
‘Symptoms can include any change in the size or shape of the breast, pain in any area of the breast, skin distortion and changes, lumps or nipple discharge other than breast milk. If you detect any of these, consult your doctor immediately,’ she cautions.
Chang says Keystone Medical goes above and beyond to ensure that regular screening remains part of its service offering to especially those women who do not have access to mammograms and breast sonars.
‘Many screening facilities in South Africa are often difficult to access, being limited to in-hospital facilities, with availability not compatible with the time restrictions of modern working women. At Keystone Medical we offer women and men the opportunity to be screened and educated in breast health, at any of their practices around the country or at their mobile screening unit where the time constraints of working women and men do not delay their screenings.’
Chang says over the last 12 months, the mobile breast cancer screening unit has performed almost 4000 mammograms.
‘The mobile breast cancer screening unit is the only one of its kind in South Africa, aiming to make Mammographic screening accessible to all women. While we have diagnostic imaging practices in many parts of the country, we utilise the mobile unit as part of targeted campaigns in certain communities. This year we have once again travelled throughout the country, visiting smaller towns, to provide essential screening services to locals.’ Chang explains.
The mobile screening unit’s route this year included Limpopo, the Northern Cape and the Western Cape. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the unit will be stationed in George, to once again offer local women patient education, comprehensive evaluation, as well as elevating the detection of breast cancer to the highest international standards.
‘We are very passionate about this project and know that many lives will be impacted by creating awareness of early diagnosis and treatment,’ Chang says.
Keystone Medical is a modern and innovative radiology service provider, offering a convenient service in low-risk environments. Their state-of-the-art equipment and highly specialised personnel offer patients a fast delivery of both radiology services and reporting.
Sya van der Walt-Potgieter
082 332 9512