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Breast Cancer Screening: What it is and Why it’s Important?

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From a young girl, you’re warned to check your breasts for unusual lumps and bumps. By doing these weekly screenings, you’re more likely to pick up changes.

Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in women. Over 8 million women1 worldwide are living with breast cancer. We know that early detection is essential to successfully treating the disease and increasing survival rates.

If you have an immediate family member who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer, you’re more likely to do your checks. Maybe you’ve noticed changes that worry you. Whatever your reasons, this article aims to inform you about:

Let’s get started.

How to check for breast cancer

There are three ways to screen for breast cancer. These can be done at home or a medical facility near you.

1. Regular self-examination

Once a girl hits puberty, it’s recommended that she performs a breast self-exam at least once a month. This ensures that you become familiar with the shape and texture of your breast, allowing you to pick up any unexpected changes.

To self-examine your breasts, stand in front of a mirror with your arms at your sides. Look for any changes in the size, shape, or appearance of your breasts. You’re specifically looking for dimpling, puckering, or changes in the skin.

Now, raise your arms and look for the same changes. Then, gently squeeze each nipple and check for discharge.

Lie down with a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Use your left hand to examine your right breast. Using the pads of your three middle fingers, lightly feel for lumps or abnormalities before pressing down more firmly. Move your fingers in small circles, covering the entire breast and armpit area. Repeat the process on the left breast.

If you feel or discover anything that concerns you, book an appointment with your health practitioner as soon as possible.

2. Clinical breast examination

A clinical breast examination is usually performed by a gynaecologist or your local GP. It’s something you’d book once a year.

During the examination, your medical practician will check your breasts for any abnormalities, including lumps, changes in texture, or skin changes. They will also check your armpit and collarbone areas for any enlarged lymph nodes.

If they are concerned or have any reason to believe, you might be recommended to go for a Mammogram.

3. A mammogram

Mammograms are usually recommended for women 40 and older as part of regular breast cancer screening. The frequency may vary based on your age and risk factors, but typically, you’d book a mammogram every year.

How do you know you have breast cancer

This is a really tough question. Some women might say they had a feeling: call it women’s intuition. Others were taken completely by surprise.

The only way to be certain you have breast cancer is through a biopsy or mammogram. That said, there are common signs and symptoms to watch for.

7 warning signs of breast cancer:

  1. Finding a lump in your breast or near the underarm area.
  2. Noticing thickening around your breast.
  3. Unusual changes in the size or shape of your breast. This could be swelling, redness, or dimpling.
  4. Scaling of the nipple, an inversion, or seepage (that’s not linked to breast milk).
  5. Persistent pain in your breast.
  6. Changes in the texture of the skin over your breast. This could be redness, warmth, or an orange-peel texture.
  7. A family history of breast cancer. If your mother or sibling has had breast cancer, it’s vital that you take extra precautions. Avoid unnecessary hormone treatments, don’t smoke, book a yearly check-up with your gynaecologist, and lead a healthy lifestyle.

What does a breast with cancer feel like

Cancerous breast lumps can feel like hard, irregular-shaped pebbles or lumps. They can move when you touch them, but some don’t. And not all lumps are cancerous. Your doctor will likely recommend a breast biopsy or ultrasound to determine if the lump is cancerous.

What is mammogram screening

A mammogram is a type of breast cancer screening test. It uses specialised X-ray images of the breast tissue to screen for and detect early signs of breast cancer, such as lumps, calcifications, or tumours.

Your doctor will recommend a diagnostic mammogram if abnormalities are discovered during your clinical breast exam. During a mammogram, your breasts are compressed between two plates, and X-ray images are taken.

How is breast cancer diagnosed

Step 1: Get a Clinical Examination

Typically, your doctor or gynaecologist would start with a physical examination. You’ll be asked to remove your clothes, and they’ll feel around your breast for unusual lumps or changes in the breast tissue.

Step 2: Go for a Mammogram

If your healthcare provider suspects you might have breast cancer, they will send you for a mammogram. There is no need to be concerned about radiation because both breasts are exposed to around 0.4 mSv, which is eight times less than the 3.1 mSv natural background radiation per person yearly.

These images will be reviewed by an imaging specialist known as a radiologist.

Step 3: Double check with a Breast Ultrasound

If the results are inconclusive, or you are a high-risk case, the radiologist may recommend a breast Ultrasound. Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your breast.

Step 4: Triple check with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

If your physician is still not satisfied, they may recommend an MRI. Magnetic Resonance Imaging creates far more detailed images of the breast tissue and can detect cancer in young women with dense breast tissue and women with breast implants. It’s often used in conjunction with an ultrasound and mammogram.

Step 5: Confirm cancer with a Biopsy

Lastly, your clinical team may recommend a biopsy. It’s the most conclusive way to diagnose breast cancer. During this procedure, the physician uses a fine needle or makes a surgical incision to remove a small piece of tissue from the lump under local anaesthesia. The tissue and cells are then sent to a pathologist to examine.

Using a microscope, they can determine if cancer is present, what type it is, and its characteristics.

Step 6: Determine Staging

If it’s cancer, your physician needs to know whether it’s spread. This is called staging and can be confirmed with CT scans, bone scans, Whole Body MRI, or PET scans.

It takes a multidisciplinary team, including oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, and pathologists, to develop a personalised treatment plan that’s tailored to your specific type and stage of breast cancer.

Treatment can include:

  • surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • chemotherapy
  • hormone therapy
  • targeted therapy
  • or a combination of these approaches.

How to prevent breast cancer naturally

Reducing your risk of developing breast cancer starts with healthy lifestyle choices. Here are a few changes you can make to give yourself the best chance of living a long, healthy life.

  • Watch your weight: Carrying too much weight can increase your chance of developing breast cancer. Take stock of your food and exercise habits and start shedding those extra kilos.
  • Skip the fast foods and choose the healthy option: Eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Choose white meat like chicken or fish in favour of red and processed meats.
  • Get your heart rate up: Exercise is a great way to lower your risk of breast cancer. Whether you choose to walk, run, cycle, swim, or dance, you want to vary your intensity level.
  • Don’t smoke and limit the amount of alcohol you consume: Both smoking and alcohol are known to increase your risk of breast cancer. So throw your cigarettes in the trash and keep alcoholic beverages for celebrations.
  • Avoid environmental toxins: Most plastics contain harmful toxins that can increase your risk of developing breast cancer. Check the labels. If they say BPA-free or phthalate-free, you’re in safe hands.
  • Be proactive. If you have a family history of breast cancer, speak to your doctor about genetic testing and taking a personalised risk assessment. And do your monthly self-examinations.
  • Try not to stress: High levels of chronic stress can weaken your immune system and potentially impact your overall health. Spend time learning relaxation techniques and mindfulness, or join a support group.
  • Get more sleep: Not only does good sleep help prevent weight gain, but it is vital to your overall health. So switch your television off, put the phone away, and get some shut-eye.

Breast cancer prevention starts at home

Now that you know what signs and symptoms to look for, make sure you routinely perform a breast self-examination. It’s the best way to familiarise yourself with the shape and texture of your breasts and notice any unusual changes.

If you are worried or suspect that you may have a lump, or notice changes with your breasts, contact your doctor immediately and inform them about your concerns. Once you have your referral letter, book a breast cancer screening at one of our branches across Namibia.

ERAD is here to support you on your journey to monitor or fight against breast cancer.


  1. World Health Organization Website. ↩︎
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