Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2017 – 1 to 31 October

The Breast Cancer Awareness Month, marked in countries across the world every October, helps to
increase attention and support for the awareness, early detection and treatment as well as palliative
care of this disease.

There are about 1.38 million new cases and 458 000 deaths from breast cancer each year (IARC
Globocan, 2008). Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in the
developed and developing countries. In low- and middle-income countries the incidence has been rising
up steadily in the last years due to increase in life expectancy, increase urbanisation and adoption of
western lifestyles.

Currently there is not sufficient knowledge on the causes of breast cancer; therefore, early detection of
the disease remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control. When breast cancer is detected early, and
if adequate diagnosis and treatment are available, there is a good chance that breast cancer can be
cured. If detected late, however, curative treatment is often no longer an option. In such cases,
palliative care to relief the suffering of patients and their families is needed.

The majority of deaths (269 000) occur in low- and middle-income countries, where most women with
breast cancer are diagnosed in late stages due mainly to lack of awareness on early detection and
barriers to health services.

The recommended early detection strategies for low- and middle-income countries are awareness of
early signs and symptoms and screening by clinical breast examination in demonstration areas.
Mammography screening is very costly and is feasible only in countries with good health infrastructure
that can afford a long-term programme.

The incidence of breast cancer among South African women is increasing and it is one of the most
common cancers among women in South Africa. It is the most prevalent cancer amongst white and
Asian women and the second most common cancer among black and coloured women.

Facts about breast cancer
Early detection of the condition can lead to effective treatment and a positive prognosis. About 90% of
patients survive for many years after diagnosis when breast cancer is detected at the early stages.
Regular self-breast examination and regular mammograms are key to early detection.
Presenting yourself early for treatment may result in more effective treatment, leading to a reduction in
pain and suffering and a significant decrease in the loss of life.

The designation of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month in South Africa reflects a nationwide drive by public and private healthcare structures to raise awareness of this debilitating disease across all races and class structures.