Breast cancer in South Africa today

Breast cancer in South Africa today

Breast Cancer Centre

Breast cancer in South Africa today

Breast cancer in South Africa is increasing! One in 29 South African women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, making it the most common cancer among women.


Ten per cent of breast cancer is caused by malfunctioning BRCA1 or 2 genes. All of us have BRCA genes. When functioning normally, these genes supress the development of cancers. However, when BRCA genes malfunction due to changes (mutations), we have up to a 90% chance of getting breast cancer. While 60% of breast cancers occur randomly, 30% run in families. Breast cancers not related to BRCA mutations are caused by other risk factors such as alcohol, hormones and obesity.


According to the National Cancer Registry of the Cancer Association of South Africa, the following are the latest available statistics:

Incidents of breast cancer in South Africa

Groups Number of cases Lifetime risk
All females



Asian females



Black females

2 302


Coloured females



White females

2 209


However, this information, collected from the country’s pathology laboratories, underestimates the true incidence of cancer in South Africa. Various factors, such as socio-economic, cultural and geographic accessibility to medical centres with oncologic services and the availability of traditional healers, deter many women with breast cancer from obtaining an early diagnosis and medical help in the form of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Although breast cancer is mainly a women’s disease, men can also develop it. However, breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than among women.

Tests and diagnosis

Tests and procedures used to diagnose breast cancer include:

  • Breast examination. Your doctor will check both your breasts, feeling for any lumps or other abnormalities
  • Mammogram (X-ray of the breast)
  • Breast ultrasound. Used to help distinguish between a solid mass and a fluid-filled cyst
  • Removing a sample of breast cells for testing (biopsy). Samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis to determine the type of cells involved in the breast cancer, the aggressiveness (grade) of the cancer and whether the cancer cells have hormone or other receptors that may influence treatment options
  • Breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The machine uses a magnet and radio waves to create pictures of the interior of your breast.


Knowing the extent (stage) of your cancer helps to determine your prognosis and best treatment options. Complete information about the extent of your cancer may not be available until after you undergo surgery, but to help determine if the cancer is stage 0 to IV (0 being cancer that is very small and non-invasive; stage IV indicating that it has spread to other areas of the body), other tests and procedures may include:

  • Blood tests, such as a complete blood count
  • Bone scan
  • Computerised tomography (CT) scan
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

Your doctor will select the appropriate tests based on your specific circumstances.

Masina, Sydney. Double mastectomy – a drastic measure. Mail & Guardian.10 June, 2013
Medical Research Council of South Africa
National Cancer Registry
Prof. Michael C Herbst. Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa). March 2013
South African Institute for Medical Research