a long and healthy life for all south africans

Mother, Child, Women's Health

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Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the top cancer in women both in the developed and the developing world. The incidence of breast cancer is increasing in the developing world due to increase life expectancy, increase urbanization and adoption of western lifestyles. Although some risk reduction might be achieved with prevention, these strategies cannot eliminate the majority of breast cancers that develop in low- and middle-income countries where breast cancer is diagnosed in very late stages. Therefore, early detection in order to improve breast cancer outcome and survival remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control.


Control of specific modifiable breast cancer risk factors as well as effective integrated prevention of non-communicable diseases which promotes healthy diet, physical activity and control of alcohol intake, overweight and obesity, could eventually have an impact in reducing the incidence of breast cancer in the long term.

Early detection

Although some risk reduction might be achieved with prevention, these strategies cannot eliminate the majority of breast cancers that develop in low- and middle-income countries. Therefore, early detection in order to improve breast cancer outcome and survival remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control (Anderson et al., 2008).
There are two early detection methods:

  • Early diagnosis or awareness of early signs and symptoms in symptomatic populations in order to facilitate diagnosis and early treatment, and
  • Screening that is the systematic application of a screening test in a presumably asymptomatic population. It aims to identify individuals with an abnormality suggestive of cancer.

Early diagnosis

Early diagnosis remains an important early detection strategy, particularly in low- and middle-income countries where the diseases is diagnosed in late stages and resources are very limited. There is some evidence that this strategy can produce "down staging" (increasing in proportion of breast cancers detected at an early stage) of the disease to stages that are more amenable to curative treatment (Yip et al., 2008).

Mammography screening

Mammography screening is the only screening method that has proven to be effective. Although there is evidence that organized population-based mammography screening programmes can reduce breast cancer mortality by around 20% in the screened group versus the unscreened group across all age groups, in general there appears to be a narrow balance of benefits compared with harms, particularly in younger and older women. There is uncertainty about the magnitude of the harms – particularly overdiagnosis and overtreatment. Mammography screening is very complex and resource intensive and no research of its effectiveness has been conducted in low resource settings.

Breast self-examination (BSE)

There is no evidence on the effect of screening through breast self-examination (BSE). However, the practice of BSE has been seen to empower women, taking responsibility for their own health. Therefore, BSE is recommend for raising awareness among women at risk rather than as a screening method.

Clinical Breast Examination (CBE)

Research is underway to evaluate CBE as a low-cost approach to breast cancer screening that can work in less affluent countries. Promising preliminary results show that the age-standardized incidence rate for advanced-stage breast cancer is lower in the screened group compared to the unscreened group (Sankaranarayanan, 2011).

Breast Feeding is Best

Mother's should choose breast feeding if they can.Breast milk contains natural nutrients and anti-oxidants for mother and baby. Some of the benefets of breast milk include:

  • Properties that fight sicknesses and allergies for baby
  • Protection from certain cancers in the future for mother
  • Breast feeding reduces mother’s risk to post partum depression
  • Breast milk assists brain activity, intelligence and early development for baby

Regular Pap Smears

It is important for every sexually active woman to go for her regular Pap smears or Pap test. These tests screen for advanced cancers, and help with the early detection of cervical cancers.

Male & Female condoms

Taking charge of your sexual health means choosing your choice of female or male condoms. Being in charge of your health and destiny means you leave nothing to chance. Regular and consistent condom use is a step in the right direction. Government has made male and female condoms available to everyone for free. Choose the flavoured MAX choice condoms or go with the plain unflavoured ones. Whatever you choose, be condom-wise and stand up for your sexual health.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)

Drinking alcohol while pregnant could leave an expectant mother’s unborn baby with Alcohol Foetal Syndrome (FAS). FAS may stunt an unborn baby’s behaviour and development, as well as impair their learning abilities.


FAS is caused by a woman drinking alcohol during pregnancy. There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe to drink while you are pregnant. There is also no safe time to drink or a safe kind of alcohol.

Signs & Symptoms
A person with FAS may have:

  • abnormal facial features such as a smooth ridge between the nose and upper lip
  • small head size
  • shorter than average height
  • low body weight
  • poor coordination
  • hyperactive behaviour
  • difficulty paying attention
  • poor memory
  • difficulty in school
  • learning disabilities
  • speech and language delays
  • intellectual disability or low IQ
  • poor reasoning and judgement skills
  • sleep and sucking problems as a baby
  • vision or hearing problems
  • problems with the heart, kidneys or bones.


To prevent FAS a woman should not drink alcohol while she is pregnant or even when she might get pregnant. You could get pregnant and not know about it for several weeks.


Foetal alcohol syndrome lasts a lifetime. There is no cure. Research shows that early intervention can improve the child’s development. There are many types of treatment, including medication to help with some symptoms, behaviour and education therapy and parent training. No one treatment is right for every child.