Breast cancer affects a large population of women tod ay, but early diagnosis can help fight the cancer effectively.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are about 1, 38 million new cases and 458 000 deaths from breast cancer each year. Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in the developed and developing countries.
In low- and middle-income countries, the incidence has been rising steadily in the last years due to increase in life expectancy, increase in urbanisation and adoption of western lifestyles. B-Metro caught up with a few breast cancer survivors who encouraged people to go for screening early. Thuba Sibanda said early screening could save women’s lives.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago. I encourage fellow women to go for breast cancer screening for early detection, as it played a critical role in saving my life. “At first a range of emotions ran through my mind, I was afraid; I thought who will take care of my young children if I die now. I felt sad and angry that why did it happen to a young woman like me.
At the same time my future was filled with uncertainty, I was in denial and confused. In fact, I went numb when the doctor told me that I had breast cancer. But the good news is, I am alive today. I urge women not to be afraid of being screened early, and if the results are positive it is fine, they should quickly seek medical attention from qualified personnel.
I would like to thank all family members and friends for supporting me throughout my journey,” said Sibanda. Melody Sango concurred with Sibanda.
“I have gone for five years now after surviving breast cancer. I underwent early screening and then went through all the treatments. Genetic screening, regular check-ups, early detection and early treatment are key in breast cancer prevention and control. Healthy lifestyle, proper exercise and regular breast care are all important,” said Sango.
Health practitioners have urged women to go for screening early as many are not sufficiently aware of breast cancer and many failed to go to hospital in time. Luke Dube, an oncologist based in Bulawayo, said the detection rate rises with age.
“About 40 percent of women between 40 and 50 and over 60 are found to have breast problems,” said Dube. He added: “We suggest they should receive a breast check every year to identify the early stage of breast cancer in time.”
According to research 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, there is a good chance that breast cancer can be cured. 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.
Most deaths (269 000) are said to 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.
Some of the many possible reasons for late detection include common myths and misconception about cancer, and lack of access to early detection services. A study in Bindura District, Zimbabwe, for example, revealed that the majority of respondents had not heard of breast self-examination and that more than half did not think that they could develop breast cancer.
The majority of the respondents demonstrated low levels of knowledge regarding breast cancer. The Cancer Association of Zimbabwe (Caz) has over the past 50 years worked to raise awareness on cancer prevention, early detection and management in Zimbabwe.
CAZ states that cancer is a disease of the cells which are the building blocks of body organs and tissues. Normally cells divide, grow and multiply in an orderly and controlled way as the body needs them to keep the body healthy. When cells become old or damaged, they die and are replaced with new cells.
However, sometimes this orderly process goes wrong. When this happens, cells do not die when they should and new cells form when the body does not need them. When these cells continue multiplying, they result in a mass of tissue or growth, also called a tumour. Breast cancer is cancerous tumour which occurs in the breast(s). It is cancer originating from breast tissue, most commonly from the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk.
“It is important to be wary of the common signs and symptoms of breast cancer. The common symptoms of breast cancer include a lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm that persists through the menstrual cycle. A mass or lump, which may feel as small as a pea should also be a cause for concern, especially if it is detected during regular breast self-examination.
“Women must look out for changes in the size, shape, or contour of the breast, blood-stained or clear fluid discharge from the nipple, change in the feel or appearance of the skin on the breast or nipple (dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed), redness of the skin on the breast or nipple, a change in shape or position of the nipple.
“Other signs include the development of a marble-like hardened area under the skin, an area that is distinctly different from any other area on breast, tingling, itching, increased sensitivity, burning in pain in the breast or nipples, unexplained weight loss as well as persistent fever or chills.
Some of the signs and symptoms may however, be due to other conditions. It is thus important to consult your doctor or health practitioner should these signs or symptoms be present,” said CAZ information officer Priscilla Mangwiro.