27/10/2017 06:08 SAST | Updated 27/10/2017 12:08 SAST

Breast Cancer Does Not Always Show As A Lump -- And Not All Lumps Lead To Breast Cancer

"Know the shape, size and look of your breasts."

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Some breast cancers do not present with a lump.

"This is why it is crucial for women to regularly go for screenings, on top of self-examining their breasts," says Louise Turner, CEO of the Breast Health Foundation.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting South African women, with a risk of one in 26 being afflicted, according to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA).

Speaking to HuffPost SA, Turner, a breast-cancer survivor herself, advises women to familiarise themselves with "the shape, size and look of your breasts, so you will immediately know when something is off."

Symptoms of cancer could include swelling on the breast -- even if no lump is distinctly observed. Nipple retraction, spontaneous nipple discharge and breast-skin irritation are other symptoms of breast cancer. She notes, however, that most tumours are non-cancerous. "If you notice any change, have [your breasts] immediately checked by a medical professional."

Early detection gives one a better chance of successful treatment.


Turner's top advice:

1. Do not postpone screening

Turner cautions against waiting until it's too late to go for breast examination screenings. "Many women younger than 40 have been diagnosed with the disease."

She also warns against not going for screenings because there has been no history of the disease in the family, emphasising that breast cancer affects all women, regardless of the disease's history in the family.

She advises women to do self-examinations at least once a month and screenings at least once a year.

2. Get a second opinion

"There is no such thing as an emergency mastectomy." Turner cautions against making decisions based on one consultation from one medical professional.

"Depending on the stage of the cancer, all options to conserve the breast should be explored, and you should agree to a mastectomy only if you are fully convinced that's the best option."

She points out that the decision-making process should involve a multidisciplinary team consisting of doctors and physicians.

3. Be careful of "alternative cancer treatments"

There are a number of "alternative breast cancer treatments" that have not been verified by medical professionals.

She warns that people should be wary of anyone or any website that claims to cure breast cancer -- but hasn't been medically verified.

"Check with a medical-care professional first," she advises.

Here are some organisations that offer support to breast cancer patients and survivors:

1. Bosom Buddies –- a breast-cancer-survivor support group. You can contact them on 0860 283 343.

2. amaBele Belles -- a dragon-boat racing club for breast-cancer survivors. You can contact them on 021 939 7823.

3. Look Good, Feel Better -- the group provides free beauty and makeover workshops to cancer patients. Reachable on 011 795 3927.

4. CanSurvive -- a support group for breast-cancer patients, survivors and their friends and families. You can contact them on 062 275 6193.

5. Reach for Recovery -- a breast-cancer support organisation that offers a patient support service nationwide. Reachable on 021 889 5806.