It’s October Breast Cancer Awareness Month! I’m sure you’ll agree that regardless of how much people around the world talk and share experiences about Breast Cancer, some Nigerians are still ignorant of the risks of breast cancer. That is why we have decided to join the breast cancer awareness in Nigeria campaign to educate you about this disease and the measures to avoid it.
To discuss Breast Cancer, it’s helpful that we know what Cancer means and the common types:
Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Cancer develops when the body’s normal control mechanism stops working. Old cells do not die but instead grow out of control, forming new, abnormal cells. These extra cells may form a mass of tissue, called a tumor (CTCA 2018).
Simply say, Cancer is a disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroys body tissue.
There are various types of cancer, most common among them are:
Prostate cancer (cancer in a man’s prostate, a small walnut-sized gland that produces seminal fluid),
Basal cell cancer (A type of skin cancer that begins in the basal cells)
Colon Cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum, located at the digestive tract’s lower end)
Lung Cancer (cancer that begins in the lungs and most often occurs in people who smoke),
Leukemia (A cancer of blood-forming tissues, hindering the body’s ability to fight infection) and the at the heart of this Post
Breast Cancer (cancer that forms in the cells of the breasts).
According to Breastcancer.org The term “breast cancer” refers to a malignant tumor that has developed from cells in the breast.
Usually, breast cancer either begins in the cells of the lobules, which are the milk-producing glands, or the ducts, the passages that drain milk from the lobules to the nipple. Less commonly, breast cancer can begin in the stromal tissues, which include the fatty and fibrous connective tissues of the breast.
Over time, cancer cells can invade nearby healthy breast tissue and make their way into the underarm lymph nodes (small organs that filter out foreign substances in the body). If cancer cells get into the lymph nodes, they then have a pathway into other parts of the body.
BREAST CANCER CAUSES
Breast cancer is always caused by a genetic abnormality (a “mistake” in the genetic material). However, only 5-10% of cancers are due to an abnormality inherited from your mother or father( in case you didn’t know, men also report cases of breast cancer even though the number is quite insignificant in relation to reported cancer cases in women) . Doctors estimate that about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are linked to gene mutations passed through generations of a family.
A number of inherited mutated genes that can increase the likelihood of breast cancer have been identified. The most well-known are breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2), both of which significantly increases the risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.
Some Nigerians do not hold the belief that Breast Cancer can be passed on but doctors advise that If you have a strong family history of breast cancer or other cancers you should see a physician who may recommend a blood test to help identify specific mutations in BRCA or other genes that are being passed through your family.
A visit to a genetic counselor would also come in handy as the counselor is expected to review your family health history and probably discuss the benefits, risks, and limitations of a genetic testing to assist you with shared decision-making
Therefore, the greater percentage of Breast Cancer 85-90% are due to genetic abnormalities that happen as a result of the aging process and the “wear and tear” of life in general.
Just like every major disease or ailment, breast cancer has its symptoms, some of which are:
- A breast lump or thickening that feels different from the surrounding tissue (this is often time the first apparent symptom of Breast Cancer)
- Change in the skin color, size, shape or appearance of a breast
- Changes to the skin over the breast, such as dimpling
- A newly inverted nipple
- Peeling, scaling, crusting or flaking of the pigmented area of skin surrounding the nipple (areola) or breast skin
- Redness or swollen lymph nodes
- Nipple Discharge (bloody in some cases)
It might interest you to know that some women have also reported not having any of these symptoms and this makes it a little scary. This goes to show how important it is to see a Doctor or constantly do a BSE.
A good number of enlightened Nigerians know what a BSE is but might not necessarily know all that it entails.
BSE is called Breast self-examination. It’s a technique that allows an individual to examine his/her breast tissue for any physical or visual changes. It is often used as an early detection method for breast cancer. Both men and women should perform a BSE at least once each month beginning at age 18. It can be performed in front of a mirror or lying down
Some BSE Technique Tips:
- Do your BSE at the end of your monthly period.
- If you are pregnant, no longer have periods or your period is irregular, choose a specific day each month.
- This should not be performed in the shower or with lotion on your skin or fingers.
- If you find a lump or notice other unusual changes, don’t panic. About 80% of lumps found are not cancerous. See your doctor promptly for a further evaluation.
As we all strive to guard ourselves and loved ones from this terminal illness it’s also important we consider some Factors that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer which includes:
- Being female: Women are no doubt more prone than men to develop breast cancer.
- A personal history of breast conditions: If you’ve had a breast biopsy that found lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) or atypical hyperplasia of the breast, you have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- A personal history of breast cancer: People who have reported cases of cancer in one breast might experience it in the other breast too
- A family history of breast cancer: Having a relative who has at some point being diagnosed with breast cancer increases your risk. Although, the majority of people diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.
- Radiation exposure: If you received radiation treatments to your chest as a child or young adult, your risk of breast cancer is increased. That’s why it’s advised that people stay off X-rays and all forms of radiation as much as they can.
- Obesity: Being obese might seem like a sign of good living but be careful
- Beginning your period at a younger age: Beginning your period before age 12 increases your risk of breast cancer.
- Beginning menopause at an older age: If you began menopause at an older age, you’re more likely to develop breast cancer.
- Having your first child at an older age: Women who give birth to their first child after age 30 may have an increased risk of breast cancer.
- Having never been pregnant: Women who have never been pregnant run a great risk of breast cancer than women who have had one or more pregnancies.
- Postmenopausal hormone therapy: Women who take hormone therapy medications that combine estrogen and progesterone to treat the signs and symptoms of menopause have an increased risk of breast cancer. The risk of breast cancer decreases when women stop taking these medications.
- Drinking alcohol: Alcohol intake is also known to be one of the risk factors of Breast Cancer
- Advancement in Age: Breast Cancer risk increases just as we grow
We’ve learned a couple of things that put us at risk of having breast cancer, it is also important we learn some of the things that reduce our exposure to these risk
Breast cancer risk reduction for women with an average risk
BSE ( Breast Self Exam): No one can know your body better than you do. On the journey to being very self-aware. It’s important you get familiar with your body, check out for unusual signs and make BSE Technique a routine. Breast awareness can’t prevent breast cancer, but it may help you to better understand the normal changes that your breast undergoes and identify any unusual signs and symptoms.
Get Help: Immediately you notice any change in the way your body works, it’s important you see a doctor. Discuss with your doctor on when to begin breast cancer screening exams and tests.
Abstain from Alcohol and exercise regularly
Limit postmenopausal hormone therapy: Some women experience bothersome signs and symptoms during menopause and, for these women, the increased risk of breast cancer may be acceptable in order to relieve menopause signs and symptoms.
To reduce the risk of breast cancer, use the lowest dose of hormone therapy possible for the shortest amount of time.
Choose a healthy weight and lifestyle: Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
The Mediterranean diet focuses mostly on plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. People who follow the Mediterranean diet choose healthy fats, such as olive oil, over butter and fish instead of red meat. Reduce your calorie intake and increase amount of exercise
Always have it in mind that Breast Cancer can’t be prevented but early detection helps you find cancer before it spreads and puts your life at a great risk.
If you’ve been diagnosed or have someone who has, don’t lose hope. Make sure you or your loved visits the Doctor regularly and do not miss your appointments and medications
If you’ve found this post helpful, don’t forget to share as widely as you can and play your part in the breast cancer awareness in Nigeria and smile while you glamor in the Pink month of October.
Article Source: Mayo Clinic, WebMD, NationalBreastcancer.Org, Maurer Foundation, BreastCancer.Org, Cancer Treatment Centers of America