Women 'choose death over breast ops'

BREAST cancer kills at least 3 000 women every year in South Africa, but rather than have their breasts removed to save their lives, some black women choose not to have the operation as they fear being rejected by their husbands.

BREAST cancer kills at least 3 000 women every year in South Africa, but rather than have their breasts removed to save their lives, some black women choose not to have the operation as they fear being rejected by their husbands.

With October declared Breast Cancer Month, activists are highlighting how devastating this "silent killer" is.

The Chris Hani Baragwanath Breast Clinic in Soweto attends to hundreds of women a month, many of them in the late stages of breast cancer and need to have their breasts removed.

But many refuse to have the operation because they know someone whose partner left them after they had their breasts removed.

"Some never return to the clinic after being told they need to have a masectomy," said Molebatsi Pooe-Shongwe, founder of BreastSens at the Baragwanath clinic.

"Women would rather die of cancer than remove their breasts, she said.

"The things we witness in Bara Clinic are so shocking. More education on breast cancer is needed in black communities.

"I have seen a woman whose cancer was so bad that she needed an urgent masectomy but she refused to do it."

The patient said her husband would leave, and she could not afford this as he was the breadwinner.

Pooe-Shongwe said that one woman had said her husband and in-laws had refused that she be operated on as they had paid lobolo for her and her body belonged to her husband.

Pooe-Shongwe herself had a double masectomy three years ago and has since had reconstructive surgery.

"My family and my former husband supported me but that was not enough."

She explained that support from a life partner was important.

Men needed to understand that once cancer had been detected it needed to be removed so that it did not spread, she explained.

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