Cancer is the 3rd leading cause of death in Kenya after infectious and cardiovascular diseases. Breast Cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in Kenya recording 6000 cases yearly and 2500 deaths. The high cost of cancer treatment has taken a toll on health systems and families who have spent lots of resources looking for treatment but still lose loved ones to cancer.
Who Can Get It?
Both men and women are at risk of getting breast cancer though women are at higher risk. Most breast cancers are found in women aged 50 years and above. Age is a factor. In Kenya, 30% of cancer cases have been diagnosed in women in their early 30s and 40s.
Early signs and symptoms
Have you ever taken time to study your breast? How your breast looks and feel is a significant part of breast health. As far as screening tests and mammograms are important knowing how your breast normally looks will make you identify any abnormal changes faster and easier.
One common symptom of breast cancer is the development of a lump or mass in the breast. The lump is usually painless and hard with irregular edges. You should also note that the lump can also be soft, round, and painless. And not all breast lumps are cancerous.
Other breast cancer signs include:
- Skin changes. Swelling of all breasts or parts and redness
- Nipple discharge other than breast milk
- Breast or nipple pain
- Increase in breast size or shape
- Nipple retraction
- Swollen lymph nodes under the arm
Some of the symptoms may be caused by benign (noncancerous) breast conditions. It’s good to visit professional health care for clarity. Remember early detection of cancer can lead to successful treatment.
Self-examination for breast cancer
Apart from often going for screening and mammography, self-examination can help detect cancer. These are the steps of self-examination in the picture
Risk factors for getting Breast cancer
- Age: most cancer cases are diagnosed in a patient aged 50 years and above. The risk of getting cancer increases with aging
- Being a woman: women are more likely to get breast cancer than men.
- Excessive intake of alcohol and smoking. Research has shown that tobacco has been linked to a different type of cancer, so is alcohol
- Obesity or overweight. Too much weight increases the risk of developing cancer
- Family history of breast cancer. Women who have had their mothers or sisters diagnosed with cancer have a higher risk of developing cancer
- Radiation exposure: if you had previous treatment of radiation on the head, neck, or chest you may get cancer in future life
- Dense breasts. Having dense breasts makes it hard to see tumors on a mammogram. Dense breasts have more connective tissue than fatty tissue
Ways to reduce cancer risk
We can reduce the risks of developing breast cancer by avoiding and not smoking, eating a healthy diet of more fruits and vegetables, doing physical exercise, limiting alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight, and breastfeeding. Regular screening and mammographs lead to the early detection of breast cancer.
Treating breast cancer
Breast cancer treatment depends on the stage and type of breast cancer you have. The common cancer treatments are:
These involved taking anticancer drugs. The drugs kill the cancer cells hindering them from multiplying and reproducing. The side effects of chemotherapy are hair loss, sore mouth, infections, tiredness, loss of appetite, and feeling sick.
Using radiation beams or high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. The patient may experience some side effects after this treatment. They will feel irritation and darkening of the skin on the breast, and fatigue.
There are two types of breast cancer surgery. Breast-conserving surgery where the cancerous tumor is removed and mastectomy where the whole breast is removed.
- Hormonal therapy
Oestrogen and progesterone hormones which are found in our body can stimulate breast cancer cells. To lower the level of estrogen and progesterone hormonal therapy is used.
Myths and Misconceptions about Breast Cancer
- Only women are at risk of getting breast cancer. The truth is that men can also develop breast cancer and should practice self-examination too.
- A lump in the breast means you have breast cancer, not all lumps in the breast are cancerous. Visit your doctor to perform a test first to clear any doubt.
- Breast cancer is contagious. Truth is, breast cancer cannot be transferred to somebody else.
- A mammograph can cause or spread breast cancer. Not true. Mammographs are the best in the early detection of breast cancer
- If you have a family history of breast cancer you will get breast cancer too. Women who have a family history of breast cancer have a higher risk of getting cancer but women who do have a family history of breast cancer develop cancer too.
- Carrying a cell phone in your bra can cause breast cancer. Not true
- Only persons aged 50 years and above develop breast cancer. The truth is that even women in their early 20s and 30s have been diagnosed with cancer but the risks are higher in older people.
Breast cancer is treatable. But more importantly, is preventable. Understanding the risk factors that lead to someone developing breast cancer and creating awareness among the community might see the number of new breast cancer cases drop. Early detection of breast cancer is the best way to successfully treatment of cancer. Do a regular breast cancer screening and self-examination monthly.
Freelance writer and podcaster