Breast can­cer: What we all need to know

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/opinion - Gen­der Tsun­gai Chek­erwa-Ma­chokoto

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.

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