Frequently Asked Questions

When do I need to start having mammograms?

Screening mammograms are recommended every year to 2 years, from the age of 40.

Screening refers to the regular testing of women who have no known problems or symptoms in their breasts. Mammograms are the gold standard for screening, as proven in multiple studies over the last 30 years. Screening allows for the detection of early breast cancer and improves management and survival.

Other ways to screen breasts include clinical examination and ultrasound imaging of the breasts. Both of these screening methods have not been proven to have an impact on early detection and survival outcomes.

Controversy exists about the age to start screening and best intervals between screening mammograms, which have resulted in differing guidelines from country to country.

  • The Radiological Society of South Africa (RSSA)
  • The Breast Imaging Society of South Africa (BISSA)
  • Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA)

What are the signs of Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer may manifest in many different ways. Most commonly, women will present with a lump in the breast or armpit. However, other important signs to look out for include:

  • Nipple pulling in (retraction)
  • Dimpling of the skin of the breast
  • Thickening or redness of the skin
  • Shrinking of the breast
  • Blood-stained nipple discharge
  • Eczema of the nipple

The goal of screening mammography is to detect early breast cancer that is not yet manifesting clinically.

What is my risk of developing Breast Cancer?

It is recommended that all women be evaluated for breast cancer risk by the age of 30 so that higher-risk women can be identified and benefit from supplemental screening. This should be done at a primary health level.

Multiple factors play a role in increasing one’s risk of developing breast cancer:

  • Family history: less than 10% of people diagnosed with breast cancer have a family history
  • Genetic mutations: less than 5% of people diagnosed with breast cancer have a hereditary gene; the most common genes are BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • Personal history of breast cancer or premalignant breast lesions
  • Personal history of previous chest radiation
  • Race and ethnicity
  • BMI
  • Menstrual history, how many times a woman has given birth, and breastfeeding
  •  Sedentary lifestyle
  • Being a smoker; alcohol use 

Can Men develop Breast Cancer?

“Yes. Less than 1% of men develop breast cancer.”

After diagnosis 

Breast cancer is a devastating diagnosis, as any cancer would be. The psychological burden can be immeasurable on the individual as well as their families, and sifting through the plethora of information on the web and in the media can be frightening and confusing.

Our role in diagnosing breast cancer does not end there but continues with helping patients navigate this daunting journey.

Once the definitive diagnosis is made, a team of doctors, including specialised breast surgeons and oncologists, are consulted. Management and treatment decisions are based on factors such as cancer type, stage, hormone sensitivity, and molecular changes.

Treatment usually involves surgery (lumpectomy or mastectomy) and possibly chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone blockade.

 What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a common metabolic bone disease mainly affecting post-menopausal women and elderly men. It may also be a manifestation of an underlying medical condition as well as a side effect of certain medications.

In simple terms, osteoporosis is “weakening” of the bones – making the bones fragile and susceptible to sustaining major fractures even from relatively minor injuries.

Osteoporosis is a silent disease, not causing any pain or discomfort. The only symptom of osteoporosis is sustaining a fracture.

It is diagnosed using a specialised X-ray machine known as a DEXA scanner.

There are multiple treatment options available which should be discussed with one’s physician.