Cancer, is one of the most dreaded conditions in our society today. It poses a great medical challenge to physicians and patients alike. It is even worse among patients and the laymen due to a plethora of misconceptions and lies which have been propagated over and over again to the extent that they are now considered fact. Among the cancers, breast cancer causes one of the heaviest medical burden as it is one of the greatest killer of all cancers.

Breast Cancer is the commonest invasive cancer in women affecting about 12% women worldwide. The numbers are slightly lower in women but breast cancer is more lethal in men. The WHO has attributed this to the fact that usually the cancer would have spread by the time of diagnosis in men. Men are said to seek medical attention late as in many societies(including Western) it is considered demasculinating to present with a breast condition. It just goes on to cement the fact that early detection of breast cancer is key to the treatment and potential cure of this disease. On one hand, early tumours (STAGE 1) have excellent prognosis(longer survival time after treatment) with greater than 72% of patients surviving for longer than 5 years. On the other hand late tumours( Stage 4) have poor prognosis as they tend to have spread and will be causing disease in other organs. The drive therefore should be early detection followed by treatment of the ailment.

Women in particular and men to a lesser extent should be able to detect the earliest signs suggestive or which may progress to breast cancer. More than 80% of breast cancer cases are discovered when a woman feels a lump in their breast. The lump may be in the breast itself or in the armpit. Usually the lump is immobile and feels grossly different from the rest of the breast tissue. Other symptoms include increase or decrease in the size of one breast, any nipple changes or any colour change on the breast. Rashes on the breast and pain may also be symptoms of breast cancer. On appearance of any of these signs women should visit the nearest healthcare centre so that appropiate medical attention can be given. Women are encouraged to frequently examine their own breasts so that this cancer may not creep into them unaware.

Over the last 20 years breast cancer screening has become an important tool in the early detection of breast Cancer. Breast cancer screening is the testing of otherwise-healthy women for breast cancer in an attempt to achieve an earlier diagnosis under the assumption that early detection will improve outcomes. There are various methods of screening but mammography is the most widely used because of its affordability and effectiveness in detecting cancer. Simply put, mammography is an x-ray of the breast. It is recommendesd that once every two years a woman in the age group of 50-69 should have a mammogram. This practice has been proven to ultimately decrease deaths related to breast cancer.

Women may reduce their risk of breast cancer by maintaining a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol, being physically active and breastfeeding their children. Exercise reduces risk of developing breast cancer by 14%. In addition exercise reduces risk of cardiovascular disease. A genetic component has also been proven in breast cancer. Women who have a relative who suffered from breast or ovarian CA are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. They are therefore encouraged to have more frequent mammograms and to have a high index of suspicion for any breast lumps.
In a nutshell, early detection is crucial if breast cancer is to be treated with a high probability of cure. It is a baseless myth that breast cancer is uncurable. More resources should be channelled to early detection and education of the public on the disease since it has a high economic burden particularly in developing countries. This October let us all take some time in encouraging someone to be screened for breast cancer, you never know you may just save a life.

Fact File

Myths

  • People with BIG BREASTS are likely to develop breast cancer. The size of breasts has nothing to do with the likelihood or lack of it to develop breast cancer.
  • Breast cancer is incurable. Early detection is key in cure of breast cancer
    Having breast cancer means you are promiscuous.
  • Breast Cancer affects all! Saints and sinners, men and women, Presidents and postmen, prostitutes and nuns. Sexual activity or lack of it has no bearing on Breast cancer.
  • Men don’t get breast cancer. Breast cancer is more lethal in men because it is usually diagnosed late.
  • There is nothing you can do to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Some researches say as much as 90% of cases of breast cancer are due to lifestyle and environmental factors.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and low alcohol significantly reduce risk of breast CA.
  • Bras cause breast cancer. Bras have been proved that they have no bearing whatsoever in developing breast cancer

References:
http://www.breastcancer.org
SRB Manual of Surgery
Kumar and Clark textbook of Internal Medicine

Article posted by Phil Chigiya, courtesy of Zimbabwe Medical Students Association (ZIMSA) from the University of Zimbabwe.

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