October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month around the world. The idea of setting aside periods to dedicate them to the focus on certain causes is an old practice that enables communities to direct their energies and resources towards areas of concern to achieve a desired end.
Breast cancer claims at least 1 000 female patients a year in the country and the less information is spread about it the greater the danger that the disease will continue to pose to populations out there. There are about 1.38 million new cases and 458 000 deaths from breast cancer each year and breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in the developed and developing countries. At least 269 000 deaths occur in low- and middle-income 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.
We believe it behoves all of us to do something about the scourge of cancer, about spreading awareness so that we can tackle the problem head-on, armed with the correct information to enable early detection and treatment so that we can eliminate any stigma and unfounded beliefs around the condition.
We can do this through an appreciation of the common symptoms so that we can detect any problems early.
Symptoms include any change in the size or shape of the breast, pain in any area of the breast, nipple discharge other than milk, which could even be bloody, and a new lump in the breast or underarm. When any anomaly is detected it is important that one reports at their nearest health centre for examination and possible treatment. At this point it is important to point out that breast cancer, though prevalent in women over the age of 50, also affects men, even though it is not very common. They also need to be checked for breast cancer.
Medical experts believe keeping a healthy weight through regular exercise, limiting alcohol intake, getting expert advice on birth control pills and breastfeeding one’s children lower the risk of breast cancer.
This month the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) will be highlighting the difficulties faced by women diagnosed with breast cancer in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa. At least one third of the 416 000 deaths from breast cancer projected to occur in this region, under which Zimbabwe falls, during the next decade are preventable. Spread awareness, not fear. Early detection saves lives.