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Frequently Asked Questions – Breast Cancer

Why the focus on breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in South Africa with a lifetime risk of 1 in 27, according to the 2019 National Cancer Registry (NCR). There is growing concern that most women present with late-stage cancers, which makes for a difficult prognosis.

Who is at risk of getting breast cancer?

All women are at risk, especially women with a family history of breast cancer. The risk for breast cancer increases as women grow older, but many women under the age of 40 are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer too. Male breast cancer is rare, accounting for 1% of all breast cancers. It’s a hundred times more common in women than in men.

How important is cancer screening?

Self Examination

Early detection is vital.  Research has shown that a regular Breast Self-Examination (BSE) plays an important role in discovering breast cancer, compared to finding a breast lump by chance. While not all breast lumps indicate cancer, they should be investigated.  It’s vital to educate yourself and get to know the warning signs and symptoms.

In a recent study, it showed that breast self-examination among women, was as low as 5% in South Africa.


Clinical Breast Examination

A Clinical Breast Examination (CBE) is a visual and manual examination of the entire breast, from the collarbone to the bra line, and from the armpit to the breast bone.

CANSA offers Clinical Breast Examinations (CBE) at CANSA Care Centres to detect any irregularities and patients with medical aid benefits can claim from their medical aids once they have paid for the screening. Women are entitled to an annual clinical breast examination when visiting primary health care centres.


A mammogram (a special x-ray to detect lumps in the breast), does not prevent breast cancer, however, can save lives by finding breast cancer as early as possible. Women from the age of 40 should go for an annual mammogram, for purposes of non-symptomatic breast screening. Women 55 years and older, should have a mammogram every two years – or if they choose, continue with an annual mammogram.

  • Our CANSA Care Centres do not offer mammograms, however, women can be screened at public hospital breast clinics if they have a referral letter from a medical professional or CANSA nurse.
  • Alternately contact the Radiological Society of SA (RSSA) on 011-794 4395, email: or visit, to arrange for a mammogram.

What are some of the symptoms of breast cancer?

While not all breast lumps indicate cancer, they should be investigated, especially if accompanied by other changes in breasts or the under-arm area. Check out for a puckering of the skin of the breast, areola, or nipple that becomes scaly, red, or swollen or may have ridges or pitting resembling the skin of an orange.  Also look out for a lump in the breast or armpit, a change in the skin around the nipple or nipple discharge, dimpling of the nipple or nipple retraction, an unusual increase in the size of one breast, one breast unusually lower than the other, nipples at different levels, an enlargement of the glands and an unusual swelling in the armpit.

Can the risk for breast cancer be lowered?

Balanced Lifestyle

Women can lead a balanced lifestyle, by cutting out lifestyle factors that increase their cancer risk. A balanced lifestyle will reduce your cancer risk and includes making smart food and drink choices; being physically active on a regular basis; maintaining a healthy weight; and avoiding known cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) such as tobacco and alcohol.

Family History

Knowing your family’s medical history, going for regular health checks and cancer screening is also strongly advised.

Know Your Body

Be aware of any changes to your body and do regular self-examinations and get any breast changes checked out by a medical health practitioner.

Cancer Screening

Make an appointment at your local CANSA Care Centre for cancer screening on an annual basis, or if you are concerned about a symptom you are experiencing.

Share Your Knowledge

Empower other women by sharing the knowledge you have gained about cancer, screening and lowering cancer risk.

How can breast cancer survivors be supported?

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, please contact CANSA Help Desk (0800 22 6622 / ) so that our staff can offer you and your loved one’s care and support, including medical equipment hire, wigs, Tele counselling, support groups, online support groups and resources, as well as CANSA Care Homes where patients receiving treatment far from home can stay during treatment. We can also help guide you through the public health care system.

CANSA and Food Lovers Market ‘Check Them Out’ Campaign

CANSA is partnering with retail chain Food Lover’s Market and Grid Worldwide, a leading branding and design agency, in a national campaign to encourage proactive screening related to breast cancer.

It’s a campaign that appeals to shoppers to check their breasts as often as they check out their fruit and vegetables.

Taking place in October 2023, for breast cancer awareness month, the ‘Check Them Out’ Campaign sees the fresh produce aisles of all 300 Food Lover’s stores across the country brandished with cheeky stickers to remind women to perform self-breast examinations to spot lumps, bumps and other irregularities, which could be signs of breast cancer.

Do you have a question?
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CANSA Tele Counselling

 0800 22 6622 Toll Free
 072 197 9305 English and Afrikaans (text only)
 071 867 3530 isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sesotho, Setswana and Sepedi (text only)


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1931 - 2021. 90 Year Anniversary

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