I've been practicing medicine for 4 years and already I have come across over 10 patients with breast cancer.
Almost everyone is familiar with the term breast cancer, some even have people they know had or have breast cancer.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's talk about what Cancer is.
Cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in an uncontrolled way.
As at 4 years ago Nigeria had an annual cancer death rate of 10,000 and 250,000 new cases every year.
So what is BREAST CANCER?
Simply put, it’s cancer of the breast, it’s a malignant growth that begins in breast tissue.
This form of cancer is common in women and rare in men (Bet some of you didn’t know that).
Breast cancer is a major issue, incident rates vary greatly worldwide from 19.3 per 100,000 women in East Africa to 89.7 per 100,000 in Western Europe. In most developing regions, it’s 40 per 100,000 according to GLOBOCAN (2008).
Unfortunately, the 5yr survival rate in Nigeria is at about 10%.
The major reason is for this is late presentation. People tend to go to the hospital when we it’s getting a bit late in its progression.
People tend to ignore symptoms that may seem irrelevant, thinking that as long as we can carry on, it wouldn’t be noticeable.
There are some important factors to pay attention to:
AGE is a risk factor for breast cancer. In our 20’s we have 0.6 percent chance of developing breast cancer within the next decade. It’s not impossible. I lost a friend to breast cancer this year, she was in her mid 30’s (may she RIP). By the age of 70 the chance increases to 3.84 percent. So yes, it is more common amongst older people than the young.
GENETICS: if you have a relative that had or has breast cancer, you have a higher chance of getting it. (BRCA1, BRCA2 and p53 genes).
HISTORY : If you had it before, there's a higher probability of it appearing again.
DENSE BREAST TISSUE: Breast cancer is more likely to develop in people with higher breast density.
OESTROGEN: Longer periods of exposure to oestrogen put women at a greater risk of developing breast cancer i.e. early menarche (starting periods at an early age) and late menopause (ending periods at a later age).
ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION: Women that consume more than one glass of wine or its equivalent alcohol percentage a day have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.
RADIATION EXPOSURE: Undergoing radiation therapy for another form of cancer. Also, working in a department or facility with high radiation can lead to cancer.
HORMONE TREATMENTS AND BIRTH CONTROL PILLS.
Aside from the above mentioned factors, we should look out for things as simple as a lump in the breast; it might even be painless, discoloration of the skin, A change in the appearance of the skin can be very relevant (especially when it looks like the skin of an orange), pain in the armpit, lump in the armpit, pitting of the skin of the breast, rash around the nipple, discharge from the nipple (might contain blood), change in size or shape of the breast.
The first thing that needs to be done is to get rid of the stigma attached to terminal illnesses. There is no crime in being sick. The people in your village may not be after you.
It’s important to pay attention to your lifestyle.
- Do not drink too much alcohol; eat healthy, drink lots of water and eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise, so you can be hot, if you are already hot be hotter.
- Breast feed. It has so many benefits including reducing the risk of breast cancer.
- We should ensure we have routine screening done.
We can also do the breast self examination ourselves or with the help of your partner.
It’s easy and you can go see your physician for lessons. If you find anything suspicious speak to your physician. He/she would most likely recommend an ultrasound , mammogram or an MRI and take it up from there.
Remember there is a better chance of survival with early detection.
Learn the Breast Self Examination today, it takes a few minutes.
PS : Men should learn the BSE as well.
Written by Dr Aju Alametu (MBBS)
Dr Alametu Aju (AKA Dr Tutu) is a Medical Doctor with special interest in women and children's health issues. She studied at Dalian Medical University in Dalian, China.
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