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Breast cancer awareness: A multi sectoral approach in saving lives

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Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer

Madam Mary Annang had to abandon her business to go for a routine medical checkup when she noticed a lump in one of her breasts.

Background
According to her, she initially noticed a sharp pain in that part of the breast on two occasions, but felt it was normal. Few weeks later, she felt some lump in her breast, but without pain, even though it was so obvious and could move when touched.

Madam Annang’s husband advised her to visit the hospital, bearing in mind the deterioration of breast cancer effects on victims. At the hospital, she was diagnosed of breast cancer, which was at an early stage according to the doctor and assured of 100 per cent treatment since it had been detected early enough.

Few months afterwards, she was done with treatment and was able to resume her business.
Madam Annang said her treatment journey was short, successful and cost effective and as a survivor, she has joined an advocacy group to help create awareness among the public to save lives.

Madam Felicia Akrong, also a survivor, said she experienced some discharge in her left nipple with pains.
She said: “I could not sleep at night when the pain started, I had to rush to the hospital for treatment, which took some months. Luckily I still have my breast intact”

Unfortunately, many women have gotten their breasts shopped off due to delay after noticing abnormalities and reluctance in seeking for early treatment.

Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Symptoms of breast cancer include breast lump or thickening, alteration in size, shape or appearance of a breast, dimpling, redness, pitting or other alteration in the skin, change in nipple appearance or alteration in the skin surrounding the nipple and abnormal nipple discharge.

Family history of breast cancer increases one’s risk of breast cancer, but most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a known family history of the disease.

Breast cancer continues to be the commonest cancer among women. Although men are also affected, more women stand the risk of getting affected.

Globally, over 2.3 million women were diagnosed with the disease and a total of 680,000 deaths were recorded in 2020. In the same year, Ghana also recorded an estimated 4,400 cases of breast cancer with 2,055 deaths.

Expert Advice
According to experts, there were still some cases not reported due to lack of awareness, reluctance in self breast examination and medical screening, stigma as well as resorting to prayer camps for treatment.

Dr Efua Commeh, Acting Programme Manager for Non Communicable diseases (NDC), Ghana Health Service (GHS), said the cases were expected to increase in future due to stigma and reluctance in seeking medical care.

She said: “Even though some noise is being made about the disease, a lot of people especially those in the rural communities still don’t think it is dangerous enough when they notice some signs. Some also resort to herbal medicines at the early stage so we are getting most of the cases quite late.”

She said most breast cancer deaths could have been avoided if cases were diagnosed early, adding that over 70 percent of the cases reported were already in their advanced stages.

“Cancer is from stage one to stage four, we are getting about 70 to 75 per cent at stage three and stage four when it is difficult to do something about it, but when it is detected early in stage one, it can totally be treated so we want more people to come early. Once you notice any abnormality, don’t sit and wait. You should come to the health facility for an examination and when there is any issue at all something can be done and treated for good outcomes”, she said.

Useful Statistics
Dr. Kwabena Omari Yeboah, Medical Director, VRA Health Service Limited indicated that per available statistics, six people died every day in Ghana due to breast cancer.

He advised the need for a self-breast examination and medical screening by a health worker at least once a year as early detection saves lives.

As part of the breast cancer awareness month, various institutions joined the campaign to re-echo into the minds of Ghanaians to avail themselves anytime they notice abnormality in their breast for early detection, which saves lives and cost.

Awareness creation
Some of the activities engaged in to create awareness about the disease include health walks, public education in the media and one-on-one engagement among the Ghanaian public.

As part of effort to increase awareness and save lives, the Volta River Authority (VRA) Ladies Association with support from its Board has acquired two sets of Mammogram machines to assist its staff and the public in screening for early detection and treatment.

Free screening has also been opened in several health centres and clinics across the country to enable the public access such facilities for early detection and treatment as the rate of deterioration was disturbing.

Treatment of breast cancer often consists of a combination of surgical procedure, radiation therapy and medication to treat the microscopic cancer that has spread from the breast tumor through the blood. Such treatment can prevent cancer growth and spread, thereby saving lives.

Nana Boafo Ansah Prem IV, Chief of Akosombo, said with the efforts of acquiring mamogram machines for screening it was necessary for everyone, particularly women to patronize the facility and get tested, adding that women have no excuse in dying from breast cancer when there is cure.

He also called on religious leaders to educate their congregation on the effect of the disease to help save lives.
He called on the health services to put the machine into good use and entreated people not to give excuses but to patronize the machine for their health and safety, while calling on religious leaders to educate their congregation on breast cancer to help save lives.

Some religious leaders have also joined the campaign, urging their members and the public not to fight breast cancer with faith alone.

Rev. Mrs. Patricia Akpene Tegbe-Agbo, Public Relations manager of the Global Evangelical Church advised women who detect lumps in their breast to seek early medical attention to avoid complications should they be cancerous.

Dr Beatrice Wiafe Addai, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Breast Care International (BCI) has urged Ghanaians to shun misconstrued thoughts about breast cancer being spiritual and seek early care to save lives, adding that “the disease has no connection with spirituality.”

According to her, cancers were the number one killer diseases among women and called on Ghanaians to stop hiding in their rooms, wasting time in prayer camps and unapproved treatment centres to tackle the disease head on.
She appealed for support from stakeholders to create awareness and education to conquer as well as reduce the number of people dying from the curable disease.

The GHS in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and World Health Organisation (WHO) also trained Primary health care providers at the Community Health Planning and Services (CHPS) compounds and health centres to enable them have experience and add breast examination to the services already being offered.

She said: “We want to make screening regular just as you can walk into any health facility and say I want to check my blood pressure. Once there is a health personnel, the person should be able to conduct a clinical breast examination, and this can be routine regardless of where you are. Once you have a CHPS compound you can just walk in and request for a clinical breast examination”.

This and many other efforts are being made to fight the disease and prevent needless deaths in Ghana.
Recommendations

Early detection they say saves lives. Women and young girls are advised to do self-breast examination after each menstrual cycle and a medical screening at least once a year.

Persons at the age of 40 and beyond are advised to ensure breast screening with the mammogram machine at least once every year for early detection and treatment.

Obesity and sedentary lifestyles are risk factors of the breast cancer disease and Ghanaians are advised to avoid fatty foods and saturated foods they contain chemicals and preservatives that could cause harm to the body.

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