Number of breast tumour patients tripled

Lisa Isaacs

THERE has been an “explosion” of breast cancer incidence in developing countries, with the number of breast cancer patients on the increase, says Tygerberg Hospital Breast Clinic head and University of Stellenbosch Professor Justus Apffelstaedt.

He said at Tygerberg Hospital the number of patients with breast cancer had tripled in 15 years from 150 to 500.

A study of a sample of 250 women who were diagnosed in 2008 showed that only four years after their diagnosis, 57 had already died “and a further 27 were living with recurrence, heading for the same end”.

An increase in numbers could not solely be attributed to early detection, while factors such as lifestyle changes, increase in population age and increase in population influenced this.

He also said people with first-line blood relatives (mother or sisters who had breast cancer diagnosed before age 50), and a family history of both breast and ovarian cancer were more likely to have an abnormal breast cancer gene.

“We also recommend that women who have a family history of breast cancer go for genetic testing to find out whether they have mutated BRCA genes,” Apffelstaedt said.

“People often do not understand that it is estimated that the precursor lesions of breast cancer are present for about 10 to 15 years in the breast before a cancer develops, and for two or three years it is detectable by mammography before it can even be felt as a lump.”

If the cancer was detected and treated during these years, it was curable in the majority of cases, but once it could be felt as a lump, treatment would have to be intensive and the chances of a cure declined fast.

He said a life-long breast-care programme should include: a breast self-exam, a clinical breast exam and mammography.