October is breast cancer awareness month, a time for women to not only understand breast cancer, but to take steps towards early detection and prevention.

The statistics on breast cancer amongst women in South Africa is on a continuous rise. A study done by Lancet Medical Journal expects a 78% increase in the number of cases reported by 2030.

At the moment, South Africa is ranked 50th on the list of countries with the highest cancer prevalence. In SA 1 in 29 women will be diagnosed in their lifetime.

Dalene Allen, underwriting director at Altrisk, has noted that breast cancer claims are increasingly being made by younger women.

This is positive news as it shows that younger people are taking breast cancer more seriously and by doing so are ensuring an early detection which will result in early and more effective treatment. 

Dalen Allen encourages women, both young and old, to go for initial and regular breast cancer screenings. Early detection will mean less intrusive and less expensive treatment.

As a woman you are also possibly a mother, a wife, a sister an aunt and breadwinner. It is important to put in place some sort of insurance for your loved ones.

Treatment for breast cancer can be very costly and time consuming. By putting together reinforcements, such as life insurance, you will be ensuring that the livelihood of your family and your dependencies will not be jeopardised or threatened.

In taking control of your life and health, Dalene Allen advices that you should go for mammograms once every 1 to 2 years. This can help to better manage your risk of getting breast cancer.

Women between 50 years and 70, and women who come from a family with a history of breast cancer, should go for annual mammograms as their risk is heightened.

Although every woman is at risk for breast cancer, there are certain factors which may increase a person’s chances:

 Age- The risk of developing breast cancer increases as you get older. About 1 out of 8 invasive breast cancers are found in women younger than 45, while about 2 out of 3 invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 or older.

Family history - Breast cancer risk is higher among women whose close blood relatives have this disease. Having one first-degree relative (mother, sister, or daughter) with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman's risk. Having 2 first-degree relatives increases her risk about threefold.

Personal history - A woman with cancer in one breast has a three to four times increased risk of developing a new cancer in the other breast or in another part of the same breast. This is different from a recurrence (return) of the first cancer.

Dense breast tissue - Women with denser breast tissue (as seen 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.

Overweight or obese women – Research has shown that being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast and other cancers. Now, a broader study suggests that overweight and obese women diagnosed with early-stage, hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer have a higher risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence) and are less likely to survive the disease.

Lifestyle factors – excessive alcohol use, little to no physical activity, smoking and diets high in saturated fats increase the risk of breast cancer.

For more information on breast cancer visit your GP or gynecologist or you can simply go online and do your own research. A site which you may find useful is Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool, this site allows you to calculate your risk for breast cancer.

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