October is breast cancer awareness month, so we’ll talk about breast cancer today.
Breast cancer is the commonest cancer among women in Nigeria and a leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Breast cancer occurs when the cells of the breast tissue start growing uncontrollably. The cancer cells can spread to surrounding body organs and other parts of the body with time.
The cause of breast cancer is unknown although several risk factors are associated with the incidence. It cannot be prevented but early screening and treatment has been shown to drastically reduce deaths from breast cancer, as survival rates are better with earlier detected and treated cancers.
Risk factors for breast cancer include being a woman, older age, 50 years and older (however some cancers are seen in young women), family history of breast cancer, having changes in breast cancer genes amongst others.
In some women, there are no symptoms, while others may have breast lumps, wounds, change in color of breast skin, pain in the breast, nipple discharge. If you have any symptoms, see your doctor.
Breast cancer screening means to check for cancer in a woman’s breast before symptoms appear. It helps detect breast cancer early and improves survival if treated on time.
Breast cancer screening tests available:
mammogram is a radiograph of the breast and is best used to screen for breast cancer. If you are between the ages of 50years and 74 years, you should have a mammogram of the breast done once every 2 years (N.B, recommendations vary across countries). Discuss with your health care provider on when you need one and how often. Also if you are below 40 years of age and have a positive family history of breast cancer, it is better to be screened early with other methods as prescribed by your physician, as a mammogram is not so useful below 40years because of the dense tissue of the breast then.
There are 2 types of breast examination.
- Self-breast exam: this is when you check your breasts yourself for lumps, changes in color or size.
- Clinical breast exam: this is done by a trained health worker; a doctor, nurse who feels the breast with hands for lumps or any other changes. This is usually done when after a person has done self-breast exam and presents in a hospital.
Breast examinations are subjective and also may not pick up breast cancer early; as it is possible for cancer cells to be present and a person is not able to feel it during breast examination. Therefore it is still advised for women to go for regular screening with mammograms.
Remember, screening is for women without symptoms, if you have symptoms, see your doctor and don’t delay.
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