Breast cancer: What we all need to know
BREAST Cancer Awareness Month, marked in countries across the world every October, helps increase attention and support for the awareness, early detection and treatment as well as palliative care of this disease. I have witnessed that the more awareness there is about a disease or ailment, the more empowered people are and the more they are able to handle the disease.
On November 5, there will be a Cancer Power Walk hosted by Zimpapers. There will be free BP testing, free sugar testing and a free Zumba session.
People will start the walk from Herald House at 6AM. For those in Harare on this day, it would be lovely to come in our numbers and support this wonderful cause.
When we get involved, we are saying we are part of the fight against breast cancer and it’s a worthy cause.
Breast cancer is defined as a malignant tumor found in the cells of the breast that originate in the lining of the milk glands or ducts of the breast (ductal epithelium).
Women all over the world live with this fear, each time they feel their breasts for any kind of lumps.
The lumps differ with time in life due to the menstrual cycle, childbearing and aging, and a perfectly normal phenomenon.
It is also advised to have the breasts checked from time to time, as early detection can save lives.
The three standard methods are - A Mammogram (X-ray of the breast), Clinical Breast Examination (CBE) and Breast Self-Examination (BSE). If you happen to notice any of the symptoms of breast cancer, do not take them lightly.
I have personally seen four people who were saved from the clutches of death by an early diagnosis. When cancer is found at infancy stages, it can be treated more effectively.
I wish women would appreciate this and develop a habit of visiting the doctor once every year for a full body checkup that includes a mammogram.
That trip to the doctor could be the deciding factor between life and death. I will forever emphasise this point because I know that as women, we are overwhelmed with responsibilities sometimes that we brave illnesses for the sake of time and convenience but this is very dangerous.
We need to take care of our bodies and look out for our health.
According to statistics, there are about 1.38 million new cases and 458 000 deaths from breast cancer each year worldwide. Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in the developed and developing countries.
In developing countries the incidence has been rising steadily in the last few years due to increase in life expectancy, increase urbanisation and adoption of western lifestyles.
There is not sufficient knowledge on the causes of breast cancer; therefore, early detection of the disease remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control.
When breast cancer is detected early, and if adequate diagnosis and treatment are available, a life can be saved. Medical researchers say if detected late, however, curative treatment is often no longer an option. In such cases, palliative care to relieve the suffering of patients and their families is needed.
The majority of deaths (269 000) occur in developing countries, where most women with breast cancer are diagnosed in late stages due mainly to lack of awareness on early detection and barriers to health services.
For this reason, I urge all women and men to talk about breast cancer as much as possible, at work, at church gatherings, at socials and everywhere else people meet.
Some of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer include a lump in the breast, a change in the size or shape of the breast, dimpling of the skin or thickening in the breast tissue, a nipple that’s turned in (inverted), a rash (like eczema) on the nipple, discharge from the nipple and swelling or a lump in the armpit.
It is important to constantly check for any of these symptoms so that if it is breast cancer you can start the treatment process. A lump in the breast is the most common symptom of breast cancer.
Most breast lumps are not cancerous. They are usually fluid-filled lumps (cysts) or a fibro adenoma, which is made up of fibrous and glandular tissue.
But it is important to get a lump or any of these symptoms checked by your doctor straight away. If a lump or other symptoms are caused by breast cancer, the earlier you seek treatment the more successful it is likely to be.
There are several ways to treat breast cancer, depending on its type and stage. Some treatments are called local therapies, meaning they treat the tumor without affecting the rest of the body.
Types of local therapy used for breast cancer include surgery and radiation therapy. These treatments are more likely to be useful for earlier stage (less advanced) cancers, although they might also be used in some other situations.
Breast cancer can also be treated using drugs, which can be taken orally or directly into the bloodstream intravenously.
These are called systemic therapies because they can reach cancer cells anywhere in the body. Depending on the type of breast cancer, several different types of drugs might be used, including chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted therapy.
Many women will get more than one type of treatment for their cancer.
The conclusion of the matter is that the causes of breast cancer are still under research so the only way to save your life is to go for check-ups constantly to watch out for any signs of breast cancer.
This is because the earlier it is detected, the earlier you can start treatment. However, it is critically important to visit the doctor as soon as you suspect it at whatever stage so that you can receive urgent medical attention.
We can do something to fight breast cancer by raising awareness to alert women of these symptoms to save lives and stop escalating the statistics of breast cancer deaths.