BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH (OCTOBER 2021).
Breast cancer is known as the leading cause of cancer. As scary as it can be, yet not every woman take heed to the preventive measures, due to the mindset that breast cancer cannot happen to her and there is every tendency that being ignorant of the disease pre-disposes one to having the disease. October of every year is celebrated worldwide as breast cancer awareness month. The awareness involves organizing informative programmes and showing support through tied pink ribbons.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women both in developed and developing countries and currently the most type of cancer worldwide with 2.26 million cases recorded in 2020. There is a high incidence of breast cancer in Nigeria, studies have shown that the majority of Nigerian women, both in rural and urban areas possess little or no knowledge about risk factors and symptoms of the disease. In cases where women are aware of these, there is hesitation in seeking healthcare which results in untimely death. Religious, economic and socio-cultural factors have shown to play a part in women’s attitude towards the disease. There is also a lack of knowledge on breast self-examinations (BSE) and who should conduct them, especially in rural areas.
What is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is defined as a disease that is characterized by the abnormal growth of cells in the breast and include the following forms;
- Ductal Carcinoma in situ (DCIS)– known as stage zero breast cancer and is characterized by cells lining the duct turning into cancerous cells but not spreading into nearby breast tissue through the walls of the duct. As this is an early stage of breast cancer, most women having it can be cured.
- Invasive Breast Cancer (ILC)– here the cancers that have spread into the surrounding breast tissues. Most breast cancers fall into this category.
- Triple-negative Breast Cancer– type of cancer where the cancer cells don’t have estrogen or progesterone receptors and also makes little of the HER2 protein. It grows and spreads faster than other forms of invasive breast cancer and accounts for about 10-15% of all breast cancers.
- Inflammatory Breast Cancer(IBC) – occurs as a result of cancer cells blocking the lymph vessels in the skin and therefore making the breast look inflamed.
- Paget disease of the Breast– type of cancer that affects the nipples and areola of the breast.
- Angiosarcoma of the Breast– type of breast cancer that begins in the cells lining blood and lymph vessels. It is said to often be the result of complications of previous breast radiation treatment.
- Phyllodes Tumor– tumor that develops in the connective tissue of the breast.
Modifiable risk factors: overweight and obesity, smoking, alcohol, first pregnancy at older age and physical inactivity.
Non-modifiable risk factors: gender, age, family history of breast cancer, breast density and genetic factors.
A painless lump is the most common symptom. Others include abnormal nipple discharge, nipple retraction, dimpling of skin of the breast, and change in colour and size of the breast.
Breast cancer can occur at any age, though it is most common in women older than 50 years. Lumps or changes also may be signs of other breast conditions, such as mastitis or a fibroadenoma. Breast cancer can’t be prevented, however early detection through Breast Self-Examination and awareness is known to save lives.
How to do a Breast Self-Examination?
One may ask, what is breast self-examination? Breast self-examination involves checking your breasts for lumps or changes. The best time to examine your breasts is usually 1 week after your menstrual period starts, when your breasts are least likely to be swollen or tender. Examining your breasts at other times in your menstrual cycle may make it hard to compare results of one examination with another.
If your menstrual cycle is irregular, or if you have stopped menstruating due to menopause or the removal of your uterus (hysterectomy), do your examination on a day of the month that’s easy to remember.
A breast self-examination normally doesn’t cause any discomfort. If your breasts are tender because your menstrual period is about to begin, you may feel slight discomfort when you press on your breasts.
To do a breast self-examination:
- Remove all your clothes above the waist. Lie down. Lying down spreads your breasts evenly over your chest and makes it easier to feel lumps or changes. Check your entire breast by feeling all of the tissue from the collarbone to the bottom of the bra line and from the armpit to the breastbone.
- Use the pads of your three middle fingers, not your fingertips. Use the middle fingers of your left hand to check your right breast. Use the middle fingers of your right hand to check your left breast. You can use an up and down pattern or a spiral pattern.
- Use three different levels of pressure to feel all of your breast tissue. Light pressure is needed to feel the tissue close to the skin surface. Medium pressure is used to feel a little deeper, and firm pressure is used to feel your tissue close to your breastbone and ribs. Avoid lifting your fingers away from the skin as you feel for lumps, unusual thicknesses, or changes of any kind.
When in doubt about a particular lump, check your other breast. If you find the same kind of lump in the same area on the other breast, both breasts are probably normal.
In addition to examining your breasts while lying down, you may also check them while in the shower. Soapy fingers slide easily across the breast and may make it easier to feel changes. While standing in a shower, place one arm over your head and lightly soap your breast on that side. Then, using the flat surface of your fingers, not the fingertips, gently move your hand over your breast, feeling carefully for any lumps or thickened areas.
It takes practice to perform a breast self-examination. Having fibrocystic lumps also may make a breast self-examination difficult, because lumps occur throughout the breast. Ask your doctor for tips that can help you do it correctly.
In conclusion, killing ignorance and educating women and young girls for early detection are some ways by which we can fight and overcome breast cancer. So there is need for more efforts to be made in creating awareness especially among uneducated women, providing affordable screening programmes and above all, policies on breast cancer detection and care also need to be developed and disseminated to aid healthcare workers make informed decisions.
Written by Favour Christiana Ogbuagu.