Breast cancer awareness: routine screening, the cornerstone of early detection

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Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer

October is a month designated around the world to deepen the awareness creation on breast cancer and the need for women, especially to regularly screen their breast for early detection of the disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines breast cancer as a disease in which abnormal breast cells grow out of control and form tumours.

Breast cancer cells begin inside the milk ducts and/or the milk-producing lobules of the breast, so when the cells spread into nearby breast tissue, they create tumors that cause lumps or thickening.

Studies have shown that greater proportion of all cases of breast cancer occur in women with no peculiar risk factors other than sex and age.

Statistics on Breast Cancer

Data from the WHO has revealed that in 2020, there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and about 685,000 died from it globally.

As at the end of 2020, there were 7.8 million women alive who were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past five years, making it the world’s most prevalent cancer.

In Ghana, nearly 5,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer annually, and almost half of them die of it because they are mostly diagnosed at more advanced stages of the disease.

This can be attributed to a lack of awareness and intensified education, as well as common myths and misconceptions about breast cancer.

In the Western Region, 26 women were diagnosed of the disease at the Effia Nkwanta Regional Hospital between October 2022 and September this year.

The WHO through its Global Breast Cancer Initiative (GBCI) aims to reduce global breast cancer mortality by 2.5 per cent per year, thereby averting 2.5 million breast cancer deaths among women under 70 years of age globally between 2020 and 2040.
 
Risk factors 

Mrs. Jackline Addae, an Oncology Nurse Specialist, told the Ghana News Agency (GNA) in an interview that, all persons regardless of gender were at risk of contracting breast cancer.

She, however, said females were at higher risk of getting the disease as compared to men.

Mrs. Addae noted that there are some factors that increase the risk of breast cancer in women, including increasing age, obesity, abuse of alcohol, family history of breast cancer and any other type of cancer and too much exposure to smoke.

Others are reproductive history such as menstruating as early as before 11 years of age, getting pregnant after age 30, tobacco use and postmenopausal hormone therapy among others.

Notwithstanding, about 50 per cent of those diagnosed of breast cancer are without these notable risk factors except being female and an adult of over 40 years.

Signs and symptoms 

Breast cancer could have a combination of symptoms, especially when it is more advanced, but a lot of people will not experience any symptoms when the cancer is still early.

Symptoms of breast cancer include, a breast lump or thickening, often without pain change in size, shape or appearance of the breast, Abnormal or bloody fluid from the nipple.

However, most breast lumps are not cancer. Breast lumps that are cancerous are more likely to be successfully treated when they are small and have not spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Risk reduction 

Mrs. Addae indicated that regular screening of the breast is the cornerstone of early detection of breast cancer for timely treatment.

She advised lactating mothers to regularly breastfeed their babies exclusively for the widely accepted six-month period.

She also advised women against excessive intake of oral contraceptives, reduce alcohol use and avoid certain lifestyles that posed risk to their health.

“Women should also regularly self-examine their breast at least once every four months for early detection of any abnormalities that could result in breast cancer”, Mrs Addae added.

Treatment 

Treatment for breast cancer depends on the subtype of cancer and how much it has spread outside of the breast to lymph nodes (stages II or III) or to other parts of the body (stage IV).

Doctors combine treatments to minimize the chances of the cancer’s recurrence. 

These include surgery to remove the breast tumor and radiation therapy to reduce recurrence risk in the breast and surrounding tissues. Doctors again use medications to kill cancer cells and prevent spread, including hormonal therapies, chemotherapy or targeted biological therapies.

Experts say treatments for breast cancer are more effective and are better done when started early and taken to completion.

Way forward 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, especially low- and middle-income countries.

To reduce the menace, there is the need for stakeholders to intensify public health education to improve awareness among women of the signs and symptoms of breast cancer for early detection and treatment.

Public education also needs to be combined with health worker education about the signs and symptoms of early breast cancer so that women can be referred to diagnostic services when appropriate.

Women must be encouraged to consult medical practitioners when they suspect breast cancer before it advances to next the stage.

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