Be Breast Aware – Early Detection Saves Lives!

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in East Africa, where its mortality rates are among the highest in the world. It is increasingly affecting young women in their thirties.

On average, women develop breast cancer at a younger age in Sub-Saharan Africa than in the West; most often these cancers are detected very late when treatment options become limited, expensive and often ineffective.

In order to improve breast cancer outcomes and survival, early detection is critical.

What is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer starts when cells in breast tissue begin to grow out of control. These cells usually form a tumour that can often be seen on an x-ray (mammogram) or felt as a lump. The tumour is malignant (cancer) if the cells can grow into surrounding tissues or spread to distant areas of the body. Breast cancer occurs most commonly in women, but men can get breast cancer too.

Risks of breast cancer

Although the exact causes are not fully understood, there are certain factors known to increase the risk of breast cancer.

These include:

  • Gender (being female)
  • Age – the risk increases as you get older
  • Family history of breast cancer
  • Previous diagnosis of breast cancer or benign breast disease
  • Increased breast density
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Drinking alcohol excessively

Symptoms of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer can have various symptoms. You should see your doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • A lump or swelling in either of your breasts or armpits
  • Change in the size or shape of one or both breasts
  • Discharge from either of your nipples, which may be streaked with blood
  • Dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • A rash on or around your nipple
  • A change in the appearance of your nipple, such as becoming sunken into your breast

Illustration Credit: Know your Lemons page

Very often breast cancer may not cause any pain, leading many people to disregard their other symptoms. Therefore, it is vitally important to know what is normal for you, and have any changes checked by your doctor at the breast clinic.

Early Detection Saves Lives

Breast cancer in its early stage is easier to treat and is more likely to be cured. It is important to attend one stop breast clinics in order to be fully assessed, especially when you find new symptoms or changes in your breast. Early detection often reduces the need for breast amputation (mastectomy) and chemotherapy, with breast conserving treatment more widely available. Almost all women diagnosed with breast cancer at the earliest possible stage survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis and are more likely to be cured compared with 3 in 20 women whose disease is diagnosed at its latest stage.

One stop clinic

From 1st October 2019, MP Shah Hospital will be running a new specialist breast service, under Dr Marek Ostrowski, Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon from the UK. He specializes in the diagnosis and management of all aspects of breast problems – both benign and malignant in women and men. He takes a multi-disciplinary approach and applies oncoplastic techniques to achieve the best possible outcome in breast cancer surgery – oncological safety and aesthetic appearance. The one stop breast clinics will be running at Village Market and the main Hospital in Parklands.

What to Expect at the One Stop Clinic:

At the clinic, you will see the Breast Consultant and a nurse. They will ask if you have had any breast problems before and whether you have a family history of cancer. The specialist will examine your breasts and under your arm pits. They will explain which tests you need. These may include:

  • Mammogram – uses low-energy X-rays to identify abnormalities in the breast. This is the most important breast screening tool as it identifies early signs of breast cancer, microcalcifications and small lesions. Regular mammograms are the most effective tests for detecting breast cancer early, sometimes up to 3 years before it can be felt as lump.
  • Breast ultrasound – uses high frequency sound waves to assess the size and shape of breast lumps and determine whether they could be tumorous growths or fluid filled cysts
  • Ultrasound of the lymph nodes in the armpit
  • Biopsy – to obtain a sample of breast tissue

October is breast cancer awareness month. Be breast aware – early detection saves lives.