BREAST CANCER AWARENESS: THE IMPORTANCE OF EARLY DETECTION.
Abbey was surfing the web, and then she came across a feed; World Breast Cancer Day, let's create awareness. Her mind went back to memory lane, on a rainy evening about three years ago, her mother came home from work, in tears. One of her close friends had just passed away, due to stage IV breast cancer. She was just 48.
Looking back, everything happened so fast...in April, she was still managing her business and travelling, but by December, she was gone. Her funeral was attended by numerous friends, well-wishers and business associates. The majority were in her age group, women mostly. For some of these people, these questions would ring in their hearts; why her? Gone too soon, who's next?
According to Sharma (2020), Africa has the highest rates of deaths due to breast cancer, with 74,072 deaths, and 168,690 cases occurring in 2018. The age-standardized incidence rate stood at 37.9/100,000 in Africa. The most populous countries bore the greatest burden of deaths, such as Nigeria (26,310 cases, 11,564 deaths) and Egypt (23,081 new cases and 9,254 deaths).
The CDC identifies the major risk factors for breast cancer, including but not limited to; being female (although males can suffer from it, though rarely), being over age 50, a family history of breast cancer, possessing genetic mutations (such as the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 mutations), being obese, using hormonal therapy, having early puberty with late menopause etc
In our region, breast cancer is often not detected until the later stages, due to a combination of factors. These factors include; a lack of medical resources in most African countries and common misconceptions about breast cancer diagnosis and screening. It would seem that many Africans, do not feel they should be in the hospitals if they have no symptoms or complaints, so the idea of regular medical screening is not very popular.
All this implies that, when breast cancer is eventually diagnosed, it is often in the terminal stages, which ultimately affects the survival rate of breast cancer patients. Research has shown that the survival rates for stages I and II of breast cancer are much higher, compared to the rates of survival for breast cancer diagnosed in the later stages.
This means that breast cancer awareness must emphasise measures that will aid in early detection. These include;
- Educating the general public (especially women) about breast examination, training them to check for changes such as lumps, asymmetric thickening, changes in colour or appearance of the skin and/or nipple. Such techniques should be incorporated into the training of medical professionals. People should also be encouraged to live healthy lives as much as possible, especially if they have any predisposing conditions.
- Engaging with communities to educate them about breast cancer. People should know that breast cancer can be diagnosed early and treated effectively (often with less invasive therapies), allowing the survivors to live normal and healthy lives. Any doubts or questions that are raised by the community should be fully answered.
- Organisations, interest groups and concerned individuals can call for increased support for the health sector, especially in low and middle-income countries. This will allow for the provision of better diagnostic procedures for breast cancer screening. In turn, this will free up the existing facilities that are needed to treat severe cases. More health centres for preventive care can also be built.
In conclusion, it must be said that breast cancer concerns all of us. The more we can do to prevent it, the more we can save our mothers, friends, sisters and daughters from untimely death.
- Sharma R. (2020), Breast cancer burden in Africa: evidence from GLOBOCAN 2018. J Public Health (Oxf) 2020. Retrieved 10th October 2021. Available from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32657321/
- Breast Cancer, What Are The Risk Factors? Retrieved 15th October 2021. Available from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.htm
- Yasin K.(2021), Breast Cancer Prognosis: Survival Rates by Stage, Age, and Race. Reviewed by Tierstin A. (MD). Retrieved 15th October 2021. Available from https://www.healthline.com/health/breast-cancer/survival-facts-statistics#improving-outlook
- Hortobagyi G.N. (2003), The curability of breast cancer: present and future, European Journal of Cancer Supplements, 1; 1, pp. 24-34. Retrieved 15th October 2021. Available from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S135963490300003X#BIB13
- Knowledge Summary, Early Detection: Breast Health Awareness and Early Detection Strategies. Published by the Breast Health Global Initiative. Retrieved 10th October 2021. Available in PDF format from https://www.paho.org/en/file/44418/download%3Ftoken%3DhmkRtMLf&ved=2ahUKEwifx8XD1tHzAhUC8eAKHV9vDU8QFnoECDgQAQ&usg=AOvVaw0YLIG6c_e857ZdcWq75K8r