Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
3 minute read
6 Oct 2021
5:24 pm

Why you need to go for your annual breast cancer screening

Renate Engelbrecht

Did you know that one in eight women is likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime? Here is what you need to know about breast cancer and the stigma around breast cancer screenings.

Why you need to go for an annual breast cancer screening. Image: iStock

According to Keystone Medical, a South African radiology group, perceptions or misinformation around breast cancer screenings are discouraging women from going for their annual mammograms or breast sonars.

Radiologist Dr Nikoli van Zyl says it’s of utmost importance that women get screened regularly to reduce the life-threatening disease’s risks. According to her, “a mammogram can help detect breast cancer before physical symptoms develop by locating tumours that are too small or too deep to be found by breast self-examination.”

Many women refuse or neglect to get screened because of preconceived notions and misinformation. The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown have also had an adverse effect, with a drastic decline in routine screening mammograms reported worldwide.

According to van Zyl, experts predict a spike in later cancer diagnoses, as many women who missed their mammograms might have been living with undetected breast cancer.

“Many women did not undergo their regular mammographic screening because they were afraid of contracting Covid or wanted to avoid placing extra strain on medical facilities,” she says.

Apart from this and the various misconceptions that deter women from getting screened, another key determining factor for low levels of regular screening is South Africa’s lack of screening facilities. There are, however, mobile breast cancer screening units like those from Keystone Medical, deployed throughout the year to provide women with the opportunity to go for a mammogram and breast ultrasound in a safe, convenient, out-of-hospital environment.

Marietjie Steenkamp, 47, from Mookgophong says her experience with the mobile unit’s professional team has converted her to go for her annual mammogram from now on.

READ: 13 medical screenings you should never skip

Mammogram appointment
Book your mammogram appointment. Image: iStock

Some of the misconceptions that keep women from getting screened for breast cancer, include:  

The mammogram might hurt

Mammography has recently transitioned to digital, which reduces discomfort. Modern equipment contains software that limits the level of compression, and the procedure shouldn’t be painful.

What if they find I have cancer?

Being anxious about possibly having breast cancer is perfectly normal. Still, not all abnormalities found during a breast examination indicate breast cancer. But, if it is breast cancer, early detection is vital to survival. Detecting cancer during the initial stages offers women a five-year survival rate of 98%.

I have no family history of breast cancer

Surprisingly enough, about 75% of breast cancers are found in women with no family history of the disease. Hence, so much more reason to go for regular screenings.

Only older women get mammograms

An annual mammogram is suggested for any woman aged forty and above. It is recommended that women between the ages of 50 and 74 go for mammograms every two years. Women who have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors should probably get screened earlier.

I’ve never been referred for a mammogram

If not, perhaps discuss the options with your doctor and ask for a referral or schedule an appointment yourself. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to look after your own health.

Keystone’s mobile screening units will be active in the Garden Route for the best part of October and appointments can be made online or you can phone 087 055 0587 (Option 8).

You can also look for your nearest CANSA Care Centre here, for the necessary cancer care and support.