Many diseases can affect the breast, and the most perilous of these is breast cancer. It still remains a headache that a deadly disease which experts have drawn and continue to draw attention to is being ignored.
In recent developments, an estimation of nearly 1.7 million new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed, with a further estimated 530,000 deaths, occurring around the world.
According to the Breast Care International (BCI), about 60% of Ghanaian women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are usually found in the stages of the disease due, especially, to low awareness, resulting in limited treatment success and high death rate.
Breast cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the breast cells. Typically, the cancer forms in either the lobules or the ducts of the breast. The breast has different parts like the lobules, which are the glands that produce breast milk.
Health experts say the ducts, which are small canals that come out from the lobule, carry milk to the nipple. It’s also the most common place for the cancer to start.
The nipple is where the ducts come together and turn in large duct so the milk can leave the breast. The least common type of cancer which can start in the nipple is called the ‘Paget’ disease of the breast.
There are blood vessels and lymph vessels which are also found in the breast. The type of cancer that can affect that is called ‘angiosarcoma’, which is not common. Angiosarcoma is cancer that forms in the lining of blood vessels and lymph vessels. It often affects the skin, and may appear as a bruise-like lesion that grows over time.
One important thing worthy to note is most breast lumps are benign and not cancer. Non-cancerous breast tumors do not spread outside of the breasts. Even though some of these lumps are not life-threatening, they can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer.
Breast cancer can spread when the cancer cells get into the blood or lymph system, and it is carried to other parts of the body. There are types of breast cancer, and the type determines the specific kind of cell in the breast which has been affected.
The most common symptom of breast cancer is a lump. In most cases, the lumps are discovered by the women themselves. According to health experts, in the early stages, the lump moves freely beneath the skin and in more advanced cases, it attaches itself to the chest wall.
In more serious cases, swollen bumps or sores may develop on the skin if it spreads. The lymph nodes may feel like hard small lumps in the armpit area.
To this end, women and even men are encouraged to perform breast self-checks every month. Early detection to improve breast cancer outcome and survival, however, remains key to breast cancer control, even though risk reduction could be achieved with prevention.
Reports reveal that the majority of women who die from breast cancer live in low and middle income countries, with diagnoses being done in the late stages due to variety of factors.
In the past years, Ghanaians had associated breast cancer with evil spirits, but with education on early detection and self-examination, there have been some life transforming effects.
Early detection, diagnosis
The earlier the diagnosis is made the better the chance of a cure. Many hospitals have added the screening of breast to their list, and private hospitals have been built in Ghana solely for the treatment of breast cancer.
The two known methods of early detection methods are early diagnosis or awareness of early signs and symptoms in symptomatic populations and screening, which is the systematic application of a screening test in a presumably asymptomatic population.
When we save a woman today, we save a whole generation tomorrow. By way of recommendation, we have to place more value on women, and make a commitment to help anytime they need one. I think both parties have to learn about this cancer so we can jointly handle and care for the breast of our mothers, children, daughters, sisters, aunties and ourselves.
In the midst of such plentiful awareness, no woman should die of breast cancer. Screening is necessary now than later, for procrastination is always a thief of time, and a stitch in time saves nine.
The writer is a student of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ). Writer’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org